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    When Will We Know the Bleeding Truth?

    In an article for Bloomberg, British historian Niall Ferguson expresses his strategic insight into the real motives of the Biden administration concerning the course of the war in Ukraine. Officially, the US claims to be acting in the interest of Ukraine’s defense in an effort to support democracy and reaffirm the principle of sovereignty that permits any country to join an antiquated military alliance directed by the United States, on the other side of a distant ocean.

    Less officially, President Joe Biden has been emphasizing the emotional side of US motivation when he wants to turn Russia into a “pariah,” while branding its president as a “war criminal” and a “murderer.” Biden’s rhetoric indicates clearly that whatever purely legal and moral point the United States cites to justify its massive financial engagement in the war, its true motivation reflects a vigilante mindset focused on regime change.

    A Russian-American Game of Mirrors


    The administration denies it has regime change on its mind. But Ferguson cites a senior administration official who privately confided that Biden’s “end game now … is the end of Putin regime.” The historian concludes that rather than seek a negotiated end to the war, the US “intends to keep this war going.”

    As usual in foreign policy matters, Ferguson notes a certain convergence of viewpoint from his own government. He quotes an anonymous source affirming that the United Kingdom’s “No. 1 option is for the conflict to be extended and thereby bleed Putin.” A little later in the article, Ferguson qualifies as “archetypal Realpolitik” the American intent “to allow the carnage in Ukraine to continue; to sit back and watch the heroic Ukrainians ‘bleed Russia dry.’”

    Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Bleed (a country):

    To encourage and prolong an unnecessary and unjustified conflict in the interest of sucking the life out of the political establishment of a declared enemy, a process that usually automatically implies sucking the life out of at least one other country, including eventually one’s own

    Contextual Note

    Ferguson dares to question the dominant belief in the US that bleeding Russia is a recipe for success. “Prolonging the war runs the risk not just of leaving tens of thousands of Ukrainians dead and millions homeless, but also of handing Putin something that he can plausibly present at home as victory,” he writes.

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    When the focus is both on bleeding and prolonging the combat, there is a strong likelihood that the bleeding will be shared. If a boxer sees a cut over his opponent’s eye, he may strategically focus all his punches on the opponent’s face hoping for a technical knockout. But, by focusing on the loss of blood, he may drop his guard with the risk of getting knocked out or opening his own bleeding wound.

    “I fail to see in current Western strategizing any real recognition of how badly this war could go for Ukraine in the coming weeks,” Ferguson observes. The reason may simply be that the hyperreal moment the Western world is now living through is proving too enjoyable to critique, at least for the media. The more horror stories of assaults on innocent civilians make their way into the headlines, the more the media can play the morally satisfying game of: here’s one more reason to hate Vladimir Putin.

    If the White House is focused, as it now appears, not on saving Ukrainian democracy but on bleeding Russia, all the stories of Russian abuse of brave civilians are designed with the purpose of prolonging the war, in the hope that, discredited by Putin’s failure to break Ukraine’s resistance, Russians will revolt and depose the evil dictator. In the meantime, those Ukrainians who manage to survive are being asked to play the supporting role of watching their country reduced to ruins.

    Ferguson speculates that US strategists have come to “think of the conflict as a mere sub-plot in Cold War II, a struggle in which China is our real opponent.” That would be an ambitious plan, riddled with complexity. But the Biden administration has demonstrated its incapacity to deal effectively even with straightforward issues, from passing the Build Back Better framework in the US to managing a pandemic.

    The Ukraine situation involves geopolitics, the global economy and, even more profoundly, the changing image of US power felt by populations and governments across the globe. At the end of his article, the historian describes this as an example of dangerous overreach, claiming that “the Biden administration is making a colossal mistake in thinking that it can protract the war in Ukraine, bleed Russia dry, topple Putin and signal to China to keep its hands off Taiwan.”

    Historical Note

    One salient truth about Americans’ perception of the Ukraine War should be evident to everyone. Today’s media thoroughly understands the American public’s insatiable appetite for the right kind of misinformation. Niall Ferguson makes the point that the US government may nevertheless be inept in providing it. The history of misinformation in times of war over the past century should provide some clues.

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    In 1935, Major General Smedley Butler wrote a book describing the logic behind his own service on several continents. Its title was “War Is a Racket.” He described the American vision of war as a quest for corporate profit. He tried to warn the nation of the inhumanity of such an approach to the use of military force. He manifestly failed because he was late to the game. Back in 1917, Edward Bernays, the “father of Public Relations,” seduced the American public into believing that the only motive for the nation’s invasions and wars is the spreading of democracy. It was Bernays who provided Woodrow Wilson with the slogan “make the world safe for democracy.”

    For the rest of his life, Bernays not only helped private companies boost their brands, he also consulted on foreign policy to justify regime change when it threatened a customer’s racket. In 1953, working for United Fruit, he collaborated with President Dwight Eisenhower’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, and his brother, CIA Director Allen Dulles, to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz, the elected president of Guatemala. Arbenz had a plan to redistribute to the country’s impoverished peasants “unused land” monopolized by United Fruit. In a 2007 article for the Financial Times, Peter Chapman recounted that both Dulles brothers were “legal advisers” to United Fruit. Chapman notes that the company was also involved in the 1961 CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion.

    In other words, concerning their impact on the American psyche, Bernays the PR man defeated Butler, celebrated at the time as America’s greatest living war hero. His fame was such that a group of powerful fascist-leaning businessmen tried to recruit him to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the infamous 1933 “Business Plot.”

    Americans continue to rally around Bernays’ genius for reducing a suspect ideology to a catchy slogan. American interventions abroad are framed as noble efforts to support democracy and promote American business (Butler called them rackets). It’s a population of avid consumers of the media’s plentiful supply of misinformation.

    There are nevertheless odd moments when real information breaks through, though it rarely leaves much lasting impact. Last week, the Pentagon leaked news contradicting the narrative the State Department, the intelligence community and US media have unanimously adopted and promoted. In the Defense Department’s view, Russia’s invasion is not an example of unrestrained sadism toward the Ukrainian people. “As destructive as the Ukraine war is,” Newsweek reports, “Russia is causing less damage and killing fewer civilians than it could, U.S. intelligence experts say.”

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    The US military establishment calls it the “Russian leader’s strategic balancing act,” observing that Russia has acted with restraint. It realistically assesses that, far from seeking to subdue and conquer Ukraine, Putin’s “goal is to take enough territory on the ground to have something to negotiate with, while putting the government of Ukraine in a position where they have to negotiate.”

    Ferguson has gleaned his own evidence concerning US and UK strategy that “helps explain, among other things, the lack of any diplomatic effort by the U.S. to secure a cease-fire. It also explains the readiness of President Joe Biden to call Putin a war criminal.” Peace is no objective. Punishment is. This is a case where the Pentagon has received the message of Smedley Butler and dares to contradict an administration guided by the logic of Edward Bernays.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    The Prospects of Peace in Afghanistan

    The Doha Agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, not only set a date for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, but it also included certain obligations for the Taliban.

    Under this agreement, the Taliban are obligated to take measures to prevent terrorist groups from threatening the security of the US and its allies and to engage in a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue that would produce a political settlement. The hasty US troop withdrawal in August 2021 emboldened the Taliban to disregard their obligations under the deal and encouraged them to prioritize political takeover instead of a sustainable peace mechanism for Afghanistan.

    Afghanistan’s Public Intellectuals Fail to Denounce the Taliban


    The Doha Agreement and its contents undermined the sovereign government of Afghanistan at the time and provided an upper hand to the Taliban in both war and peace. Certain assurances in the deal enabled the Taliban to become stronger in both battlefield action and narrative propagation.

    These include the agreement’s references to a “new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government”; clauses on the release of Taliban combatants referred to as “political prisoners”; indirect legitimization of the Taliban shadow government by virtue of stipulations such as “the Taliban will not provide visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents”; and a complete lack of any mention of human rights protections in Afghanistan.

    Another Case of Failed Peacemaking

    The agreement is not the only pact that was expected to bring a peaceful end to the conflict in the country. In 1988, the Geneva Accords concluded under the auspices of the UN between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the US and the Soviet Union serving as state guarantors, provided an overall framework for the settlement of the Afghan conflict and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Likewise, the Bonn Agreement in 2001 — irrespective of whether it is categorized as a peace deal —established a process to manage the political transition in the post-Taliban Afghanistan. It briefly outlined steps from the formation of an interim administration to the development of a new constitution and holding elections.

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    However, neither the Geneva Accords nor the Bonn Agreement were successful and ultimately failed to foster conditions necessary for enabling a comprehensive settlement to Afghanistan’s complicated problem. More recently, the Taliban’s abject disregard for their commitments under the Doha Agreement, combined with the United States’ rushed exit, sped up the Taliban’s reemergence, once again closing an already narrow window of opportunity for achieving a durable political solution to the protracted conflict in Afghanistan.

    There is indeed a qualitative difference between the Geneva Accords, the Bonn Agreement and the Doha Agreement. However, one of the key reasons for their failure, among other factors, is that they are silent on the main cause of the conflict in Afghanistan — i.e., ethnic conflict.

    Afghanistan is a multiethnic country where the various ethnic groups are also geographically fragmented. Historically, divisions over who should lead the country and how have been among the core contentious issues in Afghanistan. Disagreements on this matter have manifested in violent ways in the 1990s and non-violent ways in the outcome of four presidential elections held based on the 2004 constitution. Overlooking of the main cause of the conflict and an absence of a viable mechanism for power redistribution among ethnic groups is a common thread that connects each of the three agreements that failed and continued to fuel instability.

    The Current Situation

    Less than two years since the Doha Agreement was signed, in August 2021, Kabul, the Afghan capital, fell to the Taliban. In the aftermath of this development, residences of several former government officials, particularly those from the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF), were raided and these personnel members were either killed or imprisoned. A UN report found that over 100 personnel from the Afghan security forces and others associated with the former Afghan government have been killed in the country, despite the Taliban announcing a general amnesty. 

    Moreover, despite the demands from the international community for the formation of an inclusive government, respect for human rights and counterterrorism assurances, the Taliban have refused to make any concessions. They have brazenly continued suppressing all dissenting voices, severely limiting women’s rights and persecuting civil society members and journalists.

    Peace in Afghanistan?

    It was apparent from day one that the prospects of the post-July 2018 efforts for a political settlement in Afghanistan were uncertain at best. The Doha Agreement simply laid out a possible schedule for the US withdrawal instead of guarantee or measures enabling a durable political settlement or peace process. The Taliban too negotiated the deal with the US with the aim of winning the war rather than seeking a peace deal or political settlement with their opponents.

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    The chaotic withdrawal of American forces and the mayhem at Kabul airport — which was reminiscent of the US pullout from Vietnam — has not only damaged the image of a powerful country like the US around the world, but has also established its reputation as an unreliable ally in times of difficulty. Given historical patterns and the Taliban’s track record, in the absence of any qualitative change of circumstances on the ground, the international community’s positive overtures to the Taliban might be yet another folly.

    As it stands, the prospects for peace in Afghanistan will remain distant for as long as the Taliban own the entire political apparatus rather than participate as a party in an inclusive and representative government and respect dissenting voices. In the meantime, the international community should use sanctions mechanisms and official recognition as the few remaining tools of leverage to hold the Taliban accountable to their commitments and to international legal standards.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Ending the War in Ukraine

    Vladimir Putin has a very clear strategy for ending his war in Ukraine. He intends to wipe the country off the map.

    Initially, he’d hoped to do so by seizing Kyiv, replacing the government and absorbing as much of Ukrainian territory into Russia as he thought feasible. Now, after the resistance of the Ukrainians, he is looking to eliminate their country by a different method. He will bomb it into submission from the air and depopulate the country by turning millions of its citizens into refugees.

    Is Peace Possible in Ukraine?


    The outflow of Ukrainians has the additional benefit, from Putin’s point of view, of putting pressure on the rest of Europe and sowing discord among NATO members. Putin saw how effective Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko was last year in using several thousand desperate migrants from the Middle East as a weapon to provoke European countries. Putin is calculating that a wave of refugees several orders of magnitude larger will swell the anti-immigrant sentiment that has strengthened far-right parties and put the European project at risk.

    So far, neither of these strategies is working. With a few exceptions, the European far right has abandoned Putin, and the EU has embraced a double standard on immigration by extending a welcome to Ukrainians that few countries were willing to offer to those fleeing from Afghanistan or Syria.

    Meanwhile, NATO is emerging from this crisis with greater cohesion. Putin has forgotten an elemental lesson of geopolitics: a common threat serves as the glue that holds alliances together.

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    For all of these reasons, Putin is not interested in ending his war in Ukraine. Simply put, as Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently verified, the Russian president has not yet achieved his aims. But he might be forced to end his war for other reasons.

    The View from Kyiv

    Volodymyr Zelensky has a very clear strategy for ending the war in his country. The Ukrainian president is mobilizing his defenses at home and his supporters abroad. He hopes he can achieve a stalemate on the ground and force Russia to compromise at the negotiating table.

    So far, in the first month of the war, both strategies have met with success. The Ukrainian military has blocked the Russian advance on all the major cities, forcing the Kremlin to rely more heavily on an increasingly indiscriminate air war.

    The Russian military has expanded its control over the Donbas region in the east. It has taken one major city, Kherson, in the south. But it has not been able to overcome the defenders of Mariupol, a port that represents the last major obstacle to connecting the Crimean peninsula by land to Russia proper.

    According to Western intelligence estimates, the Russian army has so far lost at least 7,000 soldiers while 20,000 more have been wounded, which would mean that Russian forces inside Ukraine have been reduced by a third. Unless the Kremlin can send in a lot of reinforcements — Belarussians, Syrians — it will have difficulty taking any major Ukrainian cities, much less hold on to them for any period of time. Ukrainians are returning to the country to take up arms, and volunteers are signing up to fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers, so David is starting to bulk up against Goliath.

    Meanwhile, on the international front, the sanctions have attracted widespread support, although some powerful countries like China and India continue to support Putin economically. Some of the sanctions target the lifestyles of the rich and powerful, such as asset freezes and travel bans for top officials. Other measures are beginning to affect ordinary Russians, such as all the job losses from Western businesses like UpWork and Starbucks pulling out of the country.

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    However, a number of companies are suspending operations in a manner that tries to avoid hurting their Russian staff, like McDonald’s continuing to pay their employees even if the restaurants are closed. Also, the sanctions do not target essentials like medicines. Still, the sanctions are expected to drive Russia into a significant recession, with the economy shrinking by as much as 7%. In 2020, the Russian economy contracted by 3 percent as a result of the COVID shutdowns, which at the time was considered a major setback.

    Losses on the battlefield and in the global economy are what’s likely to force Putin to end his war before he gets what he wants. No diplomatic solution is possible without this kind of pressure.

    Terms on the Table

    The major issue going into the war will likely be the major compromise coming out of the war: Ukraine’s status in the European security system.

    Putin not only wants NATO membership off the table for Ukraine, he would like to see the security alliance rewind the clock to 1997 before it expanded into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. However bone-headed NATO expansion was — and it truly was a major blunder on the part of the West — Putin is not going to be able to negotiate a significant drawdown of the alliance’s footprint. Indeed, as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, NATO may well expand to include Finland and Sweden, for starters.

    Ukrainian neutrality, on the other hand, is very much a possibility. A report last week about a 15-point draft of a preliminary deal included “Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and swear off hosting foreign military bases or weaponry in exchange for security guarantees from countries such as Britain, the United States or Turkey.”

    Security guarantees? That’s precisely what NATO membership is supposed to provide. And it’s difficult to envision any of the countries mentioned agreeing to come to Ukraine’s defense in the case of a subsequent Russian attack. They are quite clearly not doing so now. Still, if renouncing NATO membership gets Russia to pull back and stop its air attacks, it would be a worthwhile quid pro quo to pursue.

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    But then the other major sticking point enters the picture: territory. How much would Russia actually pull back? Would it give up the gains it has made so far in the war? Would it stop championing independence for Donetsk and Luhansk? Would it give back Crimea?

    Ukraine to date has refused to acknowledge even the loss of Crimea, so compromise will be challenging. But Zelensky has hinted at the potential of rethinking Ukraine’s borders, contingent on a referendum on the necessary constitutional changes. Perhaps an agreement to return to the status quo ante — with some strategic ambiguity about the final status of Crimea and the Donbas — might be a feasible interim agreement.

    The last major question is the composition of the Ukrainian government. Putin has called for the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. In the best-case scenario, he might be willing to accept some restrictions on the participation of the Azov Battalion in the military. In the worst-case scenario, Putin will not stop until he has installed a “friendly” government in Kyiv.

    The threat of Russian influence in Ukraine was a main motivation for Zelensky recently to ban 11 political parties, including the largest opposition party, the pro-Russian Opposition Platform for Life. On the one hand, Ukraine’s democracy is one of its main selling points, so any restrictions on that democracy tarnishes its image. On the other hand, Putin has no qualms about exploiting divisions within Ukrainian society and would rely on these opposition parties to staff any future “friendly” government. Some democratic governments like Germany and Spain have banned political parties that pose a national security threat to their democratic governance.

    Zelensky is also well aware of the three foiled assassination plots on his life, all sponsored by Russia. The likelihood that anti-war elements within Russia’s own intelligence services tipped off the Ukrainians suggests that Putin has as much to worry about hostile elements within his political ranks as Zelensky does.

    Getting to Yes

    The various peace deals that are leaked to the press could signify combat fatigue, particularly on the Russian side. Or it could be a ploy by Putin to lull his interlocutors into thinking that because they’re dealing with a reasonable negotiating partner it’s important to hold off on another round of sanctions or arms sales.

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    While I have no illusions about Putin — I think he’s a ruthless fascist — it’s still important to offer him diplomatic off-ramps. There’s nothing more dangerous than a cornered dictator with nuclear weapons.

    The goal must be to stop the war and preserve what’s left of Ukrainian sovereignty. Russian troops must leave; the Ukrainian people must decide their leadership, not the Kremlin. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the vast majority of Ukrainian refugees want to return home and rebuild their country, just as the bulk of Kosovars did after the end of the war with Serbia in 1999. The West must be at least as generous with resettlement and reconstruction funds as it has been with arms deliveries.

    The Kosovo case is instructive for another reason. Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, a communist apparatchik turned political opportunist who became a vehement nationalist when circumstances propelled him in that direction, over-reached in 1999 in an effort to prevent Kosovo from becoming independent. His military campaign failed, and the very next year, the opposition swept him from power in elections. By 2001, he was arrested in Serbia and then delivered to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. He died in disgrace.

    Putin certainly wants to avoid that fate. Megalomania, however, has nudged him in that direction. So, now begins the challenge of peeling away Putin’s sense of his own invincibility—first in Ukraine, then in Russian politics, and finally in the court of international law.

    *[This article was originally published by FPIF.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Are Tamil Brahmins Finally Shifting Their Outlook on Caste?

    Seeing Devi, our servant maid, brew a cup of hot filter coffee for my mother, thoroughly shook me up. Devi? Enjoying free access to that sacrosanct location in a Tamil Brahmin home, its kitchen? Free to light the stove, boil the milk, prepare a south Indian decoction, make a steaming hot cup of filter coffee? That too, for my nonagenarian mother?

    Evidently, Devi has free access to every part of the house, including the kitchen, once considered inviolable by Brahmins. Four or five decades ago, an act like this would have been utterly inconceivable. Growing up, I remember servant maids barely had permission to walk inside our home, let alone enjoy unfettered access to the kitchen. When they did come inside, it was only to sweep and mop the floor, spending the minimal amount of time necessary to accomplish those chores.

    Feminism in India Can’t Survive Without Empowering the Lower Castes


    The rest of their tasks, such as cleaning the vessels, washing the clothes and drying them on a clothesline, would be done in the backyard. Taking their sense of cleanliness to a new height, vessels cleaned by the servant maid would be rinsed once again with water untouched by the servant before they eventually found their way into the kitchen.

    I couldn’t help but reflect on the dramatic shift in attitude I observed in my family, belonging to the elite Tamil Brahmin upper caste, toward Devi, belonging to one of the lower castes. Is this experience unique to me and my family? Or is it something that is a reflection of the changing times in the traditionally conservative Tamil Brahmin community?

    I knew scientific evidence based on facts regarding the social change I was ruminating on would be hard to come by. But I was convinced that if I tried, I would find anecdotal evidence of this shift toward a more liberal way of life among other Tamil Brahmin — or colloquially, Tam Brahm — families.

    A Liberal Infusion

    Every parent desires upward mobility and better quality of life for their offspring. Not surprisingly, Tam Brahms also subscribed to the same sentiment. This quest for upward mobility among Tam Brahms resulted in a generational shift in the type of career they aimed for. Gone was their desire to secure a steady job in a bank, central government organization or, as a distant consolation prize, in a state government organization. Instead, they set their eyes on professional careers, armed with degrees in engineering or medicine. Some sought to become entrepreneurs, a rarity in the past.

    Securing professional degrees did not come easy for Tam Brahm youngsters. The Tamil Nadu state’s 69% caste-based reservation system in higher educational institutions meant many had to leave the comfort of their home and their home state in pursuit of those credentials. They may have left with apprehension, but that provided them an exposure to the outside world that was erstwhile impossible in the cocooned Tam Brahm way of life.

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    At a recent high school reunion, I had the opportunity to meet several of my childhood friends after a gap of more than 30 years. While many had spread their wings and flown far and wide, there were few who had stayed their entire life in Madurai, the town where I spent the bulk of my childhood. Conversations rarely went beyond the friendly banter befitting a reunion among childhood friends, but there were clear indications on where one stood on the conservative-liberal divide.

     A scientific survey, had one been done, would have corroborated the following hypothesis: Those who had the opportunity to explore the outside world, especially at the defining moment immediately following high school, typically subscribed to more liberal views.

    Aging and Necessity

    Decades ago, living in the rural towns of Tamil Nadu, my parents were steeped in caste-based hierarchical distinctions. Being young, they had little reason to question their belief system or modify their core values. Surely, views and beliefs passed down through generations wouldn’t crumble with the nascent liberal perceptions of their youngest children? They did not.

    During the phase when they were still strong and able, and I was behaving like an insufferable know-it-all, there were many occasions we simply had to agree to disagree. The shift I allude to started happening only as my parents started aging and developing a dependency on others. That shift accelerated when their primary caregivers, my older brother and sister-in-law, also entered the post-retirement phase of their life.

    Most interestingly, the interactions I shared with my parents played out in a slightly modified form among my brother’s own family. Dispelling my doubts that this could be unique to my immediate circle, Purushothaman and Sathesh, two Tam Brahm friends of mine, corroborated very similar developments in their respective families.

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    Sathesh remarked that his mom started yielding gracefully once she realized that resistance was futile. Puru concurred, albeit, in a less colorful, non-Star Trek language, saying that his mom is not where he is (on the conservative-liberal social spectrum), but that she is far more tolerant compared to her past self.

    As my mother entered her 90s, the demands on the care she needed increased. This set the perfect scenario for Devi to start playing an increasingly prominent role in the household work in order to ease the pressure on my brother and sister-in-law. It was not before the sexagenarian couple started embracing the help from their servant maid from an entirely different angle, while the nonagenarian matriarch was forced to let go of her deeply entrenched hierarchical distinctions.

    Far from reluctant tolerance, Devi’s presence has found grateful acceptance among my family members.


    In the past, Brahmins asserted their superiority by employing a variety of oppressive techniques. While many of them involved dehumanizing and stripping away the agency of those beneath them, withholding knowledge was by far the most effective technique they employed to stay on top of the caste totem pole. It is no surprise that the caste-based reservation system targets this very aspect in higher educational institutions, offering preferential treatment to a staggering number of non-Brahmin caste and communities.

    This is not an article on the caste system in India, but I would unequivocally recommend “Annihilation of Caste,” a speech Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote in 1936, as a must-read for anyone interested in understanding this woeful practice.

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    In a dramatic U-turn from the behavior of withholding knowledge, it is now commonplace to see Tam Brahm households sponsoring the education of their servant maid’s children. Not only does this act guarantee upward mobility for those kids, but it also effectively reduces the supply of future maids.

    I asked Puru if this isn’t akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Puru, who had sponsored the school education not just of his servant maid’s children but also that of his neighborhood vegetable vendor’s son, commented succinctly, “It is the right thing to do.”

    A Glimpse Into the Future?

    If I thought I am liberal in my outlook, my children effortlessly put me to shame. The extent to which their ideas challenge the social status quo is more than evolutionary. They are downright revolutionary. But that is a topic for another article.

    What is important here is the concept of identity. While I still acknowledge and accept my Tam Brahm identity, to my children, it would hardly be a matter of significance. Sathesh wholeheartedly agreed, remarking that, while growing up, and even now, he was proud of his Tamil Brahmin heritage, but he sees that it makes absolutely no difference to his kids. Thinking about his older son who is a trained classical Carnatic musician, Puru chimed in, saying that despite the rigorous traditional gurukul education, his son espouses far more liberal views than him.

    The reshaping of this identity has many ramifications, the most prominent one being the number of inter-cultural and inter-caste marriages involving Tam Brahms. In the last decade, we have welcomed Gujarati, Malayalam and Punjabi grooms into our family. What was once unthinkable is now so commonplace that it has found broad social acceptance.

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    Tamil Brahmins, who account for less than 3% of the state’s population, may already be an endangered species as the pendulum of poetic justice swings hard to the other side. The threat to their identity from within and without causes many to lament about the future of Tam Brahms as a community. Particularly concerning is the plight of the learned priests, whose profession it is to administer and uphold the rituals and practices in Tamil Brahmin homes, temples and elsewhere.

    Me? I am simply glad that my family has embraced humanity over conservative traditionalism — and hope that the anecdotal evidence I have observed in my small circle of friends and family is a harbinger of things to come.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    The State of Press Freedom in Finland

    A decision to prosecute three journalists at Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, has called into question its status as one of the world’s leading countries for press freedom. Investigative journalists Laura Halminen and Tuomo Pietilainen, along with their supervisor, Kalle Silfverberg, are accused of disclosing and attempting to disclose state secrets. All three deny the charges.

    The case concerns a series of investigative articles about a military intelligence research center operated by the Finnish defense forces. If found guilty, the journalists face up to four years in prison, with a minimum sentence of four months.

    Is Peace Possible in Ukraine?


    Despite Finland’s status as a leading example for freedom of the press, it has not been problem-free, particularly with targeted harassment of journalists. However, the case against Helsingin Sanomat’s journalists has opened up an entirely new front for defenders of press freedom. It has also raised uncomfortable issues from Finland’s past, which the country is still grappling with.

    A Small Country With a Large Neighbor

    Finland, with a population of 5.5 million, shares a border of more than 800 miles with Russia and its population of more than 144 million. For Finnish leaders, this has meant taking a realist approach to foreign policy. In particular, the Winter War of 1939-40, when Finland resisted an attack by the Soviet Union, is one of the defining events in the country’s history.

    The decades that followed World War II were challenging for Finland, a small country ravaged by war. Maintaining good relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War was a necessity. Finland successfully avoided Soviet occupation and remained a democracy, but it paid the price in the form of “Finlandization,” which meant strict political neutrality and not challenging the influence of the Soviet Union.

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    Finland’s national security strategy is founded on conscription, a trained reserve, defense of the entire country and a willingness to defend it from attack. The aim is to make it an unappealing target for a would-be aggressor state.

    A recent decision to renew Finland’s aging fleet of Hornets with 64 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, popular with NATO countries, forms part of the strategy. Maintaining good international relations and participating in international military crisis management are other key elements. Finland is not a member of NATO, but it joined the European Union in 1995. Polls indicate that support for NATO membership has grown significantly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

    Prosecution Before Publication

    The case against the three journalists was triggered by an article that Helsingin Sanomat published in 2017. Legislative changes that aimed to extend the information-gathering powers of the security services were underway at the time. The newspaper’s representatives have argued that there were strong public interest reasons for publishing the story.

    The police investigation included a raid on one journalist’s home and left them stuck in limbo for four years. The decision to prosecute, announced in late October 2021, concerns the article published five years ago and material for a series of unpublished articles. The prosecution based on unpublished material has understandably raised concerns.

    There are currently limited facts available about the basis for the prosecution or the details of the case, but more information is expected to become public at a later stage. Based on the available information, it appears likely that one of the central questions in the case will hinge on when an investigative journalist’s research potentially crosses the line into an attempt to disclose state secrets.

    The Finnish Union of Journalists has raised strong concerns about the case, pointing out that it could set a precedent and mean that a journalist’s unpublished notes might result in a conviction. The union and the Council for Mass Media, the independent media regulator, have called for openness in the legal proceedings.

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    While not taking a position on the case, the council has expressed concerns that it could result in restrictions on freedom of expression on grounds that may remain secret. The council has emphasized the need for clarity about the circumstances in which considering material for publication or finalizing material, without actually publishing it, could constitute a crime.

    The issues raised by the Council for Mass Media include concerns about the risk of self-censorship. This is a sensitive historical issue, as the era of “Finlandization” included heavy self-censorship in the media and in publishing. Writing about the case for Politiikasta, academic scholars Anu Koivunen and Johanna Vuorelma warn against the risk of a return to a Cold War-era media environment, where every decision to publish was assessed from a security perspective.

    Welcome to the Land of Free Press

    In 2018, hundreds of billboards commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat famously greeted Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on their visit to Helsinki with messages such as, “Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press.” The case against Helsingin Sanomat’s journalists may test whether Finland still is that land of a free press.

    Whatever the outcome of the case, it has given Finland, the world’s happiest country, cause for serious self-reflection.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    The Risk Posed by Global Inflation

    Since the reopening of national economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, inflation has been rising around the world. This change in the macroeconomic environment caught policymakers off guard in terms of adapting inflation forecasting models and assessing the causes of this evolution. As a result, old debates have resurfaced about the risks and opportunities of inflation and how best to restore price stability.

    Despite the rapid surge, inflation was not totally unexpected since it is partially attributable to measures taken to reopen national economies, resulting in increased demand and disruptions of supply chains and production, says Archana Sinha, the head of the Department of Women’s Studies at the Indian Social Institute. In this sense, the current inflationary environment differs from the one in the late 1970s and may prove only transitory.

    COVID-19 Policies Carry Implications for South Korea’s Presidential Election


    There are, however, other drivers of inflation that may prove more long-lasting. This includes, as Domingo Sugranyes of the Pablo VI Foundation points out, decarbonization and economic concentration, allowing excessive pricing power. Additional factors are rising property and stock prices, as well as the increase of raw material prices, Etienne Perrot explains.

    As a result, as Valerio Bruno mentions, central banks’ instruments, such as raising interest rates, may not suffice to reverse current inflationary pressures. Bruno, a researcher, says that we can “expect a long period of high inflation.” That being said, it is far from certain that central banks are willing to use these instruments because of their concern with financial stability that a selloff on financial markets may jeopardize.

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    From a socioeconomic perspective, Andrew Cornford recalls that inflation is not a “uniform problem” since its effects vary among countries, sectors and groups. The main problem, Bruno points out, is that “the wages of workers, in particular the middle class, suffer greatly from a declining purchasing power. If wages are not adjusted to inflation, consumptions and companies’ profits are affected, leading to a possible economic recession.”

    On the other hand, inflation may benefit debtors by depreciating their debts. However, Cedric Tille, a professor in macroeconomics, warns that “any persistent inflation will raise the cost of additional borrowing” in the future and therefore “any gain from inflation for some actors is likely to be temporary.” For instance, Sugranyes says, “many weaker debtors will find growing difficulty in refinancing at higher interest rates.”

    The current rise of inflation pressure may prove to be only temporary — not inflation in the pure sense — but it has to be taken seriously because it could dash hopes of economic recovery and weigh on the morale of populations exhausted by waves of social restrictions.

    By Virgile Perret and Paul Dembinski

    Note: From Virus to Vitamin invites experts to comment on issues relevant to finance and the economy in relation to society, ethics and the environment. Below, you will find views from a variety of perspectives, practical experiences and academic disciplines. The topic of this discussion is: What are the main threats, but also possibly the main opportunities, related to inflation?

    “… inflation is not new … ”

    “Inflation is not new; it was hidden behind rising property and stock prices, leading to properties disparities. As international competition has diminished, the rise in energy and raw material prices has a direct impact on consumer goods. Its social effects (on pensioners and various marginal groups), as well as its economic consequences for long-term investments (distortions) and interest rates (rise), must be taken into account. On the other hand, inflation favors, for a time, companies, indebted households and massively borrowing states. Debtors become more credible in financing the investments needed for the ecological transition”

    Etienne Perrot — Jesuit, economist and editorial board member of the Choisir magazine (Geneva) and adviser to the journal Etudes (Paris)

    “… any gain from inflation for some actors is likely to be temporary … ”

    “While inflation has a short-run benefit for debtors, one must bear in mind that these debtors will borrow additional amounts in the future. Any persistent inflation will raise the cost of these additional borrowing, including a term premium. Therefore, any gain from inflation for some actors is likely to be temporary. Looking through the inflation movements of the coming months, which hopefully will prove temporary, the reasons underpinning central banks’ mandates of symmetric price stability remain as valid as they have ever been.”

    Cedric Tille ­— professor of macroeconomics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

    “… inflation does not entail any real benefit …”

    “Inflation does not entail any real benefit for most governments and businesses. Although debts may be depreciated in the long term, many weaker debtors will find growing difficulty in refinancing at higher interest rates and will see financial flows fleeing toward ‘safer’ harbors. There are objective reasons for cost increase, like decarbonization or restructuring of supply chains, which should lead us to admit that we are slightly poorer than we thought. Concentration also may allow business excessive pricing power. The vicious circle of inflation is an illusionary way of denying these facts, leading to even worse impoverishment. Some governments may be tempted to print money, [but] there will be growing pressure for automatic indexation of salaries and pensions. Difficult challenges!”

    Domingo Sugranyes — director of a seminar on ethics and technology at Pablo VI Foundation, former executive vice-chairman of MAPFRE international insurance group

    “… policy responses must address distributional dimensions … ”

    “Inflation is not a uniform problem. It varies among countries (high, middle and low-income), among income groups within countries, among goods and thus producing sectors (e.g., energy and primary commodities used for food), and amongst services (e.g., health-related, finance and travel). As is generally acknowledged, policy responses — both national and those involving international finance and aid — must address distributional dimensions, avoiding links to austerity and other attached conditions likely to increase poverty. In developed countries, policy design will frequently be handicapped by a lack of pertinent data, especially regarding wealth in the form of financial assets and tax liabilities. An option here would be a once-and-for-all capital levy high enough to help a government to deal with immediate increases in its financial liabilities, while leaving permanent solutions to the problem of enormous inequalities of wealth to be attained as part of a future response to longer-term needs and objectives.”

    Andrew Cornford — counselor at Observatoire de la Finance, former staff member of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), with special responsibility for financial regulation and international trade in financial services

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    “… the risks of inflation far outweigh the possible benefits … ”

    “It seems to me that the risks of inflation far outweigh the possible benefits. To make effective use of the tools available to central banks, it would be necessary to understand the real causes of inflation (a ‘drugged’ financial economy, monopolies and oligopolies, or the costs of raw materials). Unfortunately, central banks’ instruments, such as raising interest rates, are not always sufficient to reverse this trend. We can therefore expect a long period of high inflation, with ‘classic’ safe-haven assets as gold reaching historic highs. The main problem with inflation is that the wages of workers, in particular the middle class, suffer greatly from a declining purchasing power. If wages are not adjusted to inflation, consumptions and companies’ profits companies are affected, leading to a possible economic recession.”

    Valerio Bruno — researcher in politics

    “… inflation at these levels is a cause for concern …”

    “Labor market conditions are improving but tempestuous, and the pandemic continues to threaten life and economic activity. The rapid reopening of the economy has brought a sharp advance in inflation. These are challenging times for the public. The dynamics of inflation are complex, and inflation can be assessed from a number of diverse perspectives, including the absence of inflation pressures; moderating inflation in high inflation items; wages; and long-term inflation expectations. Businesses and consumers widely report upward pressure on prices and wages. Inflation at these levels is a cause for concern. This assessment is a critical and ongoing one as we continue to monitor inflation data against each of these perspectives.

    Archana Sinha — head of the Department of Women’s Studies at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, India

    *[An earlier version of this article was published by From Virus to Vitamin.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    A Russian-American Game of Mirrors

    Most of the propaganda Western media is now mass-producing focuses on the very real belligerence and lies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Print and broadcast media have thrown themselves into a propaganda game serving to cast them in the noble role of prosecutors of an evildoer and defenders of victimized Ukrainians. Some academic-style publications have begun to join the fray, in an attempt to refine the propagandizing strategies.

    One good example is an article in The American Purpose by the National Endowment for Democracy’s vice-president for studies and analysis, Christopher Walker. In the piece titled, “The Kleptocratic Sources of Russia’s Conduct,” Walker builds his case around the idea that “Vladimir Putin and his gang are fixated on wealth and power.” The author admits being inspired by political analyst Daniel Kimmage, who in 2009 produced what Walker terms a “clear-eyed assessment of Putin’s Russia.” He cites this wisdom he gleaned from Kimmage: “The primary goal of the Russian elite is not to advance an abstract ideal of the national interest or restore some imagined Soviet idyll,” but “to retain its hold on money and power.”

    How to Write New York Times Propaganda


    Kimmage sums up one difficulty Americans have felt when dealing with Putin as an ideological adversary. Whereas the Soviet Union’s embrace of communism made the ideological gap visible even to moronic voters, Putin reigns over a nation that American consultants transformed in the 1990s into a capitalist paradise (i.e., a paradise for owners of capital). To distinguish Putin’s evil capitalism from America’s benevolent capitalism, Kimmage called the Russian version a “selectively capitalist kleptocracy.”

    Walker notes that “the system of ‘selectively capitalist kleptocracy’ in Russia that Daniel Kimmage described” 13 years ago has now “evolved in ways that are even more threatening to democracy and its institutions.”

    Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:


    The form of government universally adopted by all powerful nations at the end of the 20th century.

    Contextual Note

    An acerbic critic might be excused for not feeling particularly illuminated to learn that Putin and his cronies “are fixated on wealth and power.” Who would expect them to have a different philosophy and mindset than the leaders of every other powerful country in the world? The list includes those that claim to be faultless democracies, committed to implementing the will of the people. The first among them is, of course, the United States, but France, the United Kingdom and others adhere to the same sets of values, even if each of them has worked out more subtle ways of applying them. And, of course, Saudi Arabia stands at the head of everyone’s class as the exemplar of leaderships fixated on wealth and power.

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    Kimmage’s description of Russia as a “selectively capitalist kleptocracy” may be helpful in ways he may not have intended. Russia’s selective capitalist kleptocracy contrasts with America’s non-selectively capitalist kleptocracy. The real question turns around what it means to be selective or non-selective. Walker makes no attempt to differentiate the two because he believes the term kleptocracy only applies to Russia. But statistics about wealth inequality reveal that the American capitalist system has become a plutocracy that can make its own claim to being a kleptocracy.

    In 1989, the top 10% of income earners in the United States earned 42% of the total income, which is already significant. In 2016, they accounted for 50%. “By the start of 2021, the richest 1% of Americans held 32% of the nation’s wealth,” according to The New York Times. Between the start of 2020 and July 2021, “the richest 1% gained $10 trillion” in accumulated wealth.

    The gap is destined to keep widening. Unlike Putin’s oligarchy, composed of his “selected” friends and other winners of Russia’s industrial casino, the 1% in the US have non-selectively emerged to constitute a kleptocratic class that, thanks to a sophisticated system of governance, writes the laws, applies the rules and captures the new wealth that is programmed to gravitate towards them.

    Kimmage’s idea of a fixation “with wealth and power” correctly describes the mindset of the members of the American kleptocratic class, whether they are entrepreneurs with names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, or politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who rose from poverty to convert power into riches and earn their place as servants of the kleptocratic class.

    Unlike Putin’s mafia-like political culture, the system in the US is subtle and sophisticated. It contains convenient paths to join the kleptocratic class, such as a Harvard or Stanford degree. But mostly it relies on fixation. Within the US kleptocratic class diversity exists. Some may be more focused on power (including cultural power) than wealth. But the fascination with both wealth and power is common to all. The system is built on the symmetrical principle that wealth feeds power and power feeds wealth.

    Walker accuses Putin of another grave sin, beyond kleptomania but including it: expansionism. He denounces the “spread of the roots and branches of a transnational kleptocratic system that stretches well beyond the Russian Federation to pose a multidimensional threat to free societies.”

    Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

    How could a discerning reader not notice the dramatic irony here? Has Walker forgotten that Putin’s complaint about NATO is that, despite promises made to the contrary, it has spent 30 years aggressively expanding toward Russia’s most sensitive borders? Putin may be interested in expansion, but Eastern Europe has become a slow tug-of-war in which NATO, under US impulsion, has been the most active and insistent aggressor.

    In short, Walker has produced an essay that correctly identifies very real political evils within the Russian system. But they share the same basic traits as the politico-economic culture of the West under US leadership. In an absolute failure of self-recognition, Walker somehow manages to avoid acknowledging his own culture’s image reflected back to him into the mirror that has become the target of his complaints. That is because, in this article, he has focused on producing just one more example of what has now become the shameless, knee-jerk propaganda that pollutes Western media in this climate of an existential war from which the US has abstained, preferring to let the Ukrainians endure the sacrifice for the sake of American principles.

    Historical Note

    In the 17th century, European history began a radical transformation of its political institutions lasting roughly 300 years. After England’s Puritans beheaded their king and declared a short-lived Commonwealth, European intellectuals began toying with an idea that would eventually lead to the triumph of the idea, if not the reality of democracy, a system Winston Churchill generously called “the worst form of government except for all the others.”

    For the best part of the 19th and 20th centuries, representative democracy became the standard reference for everyone’s idea of what an honest government should be like, while struggling to find its footing with the concurrent rise of industrial capitalism. Capitalism generated huge inequality that seemed at least theoretically anomalous with the idea of democracy.

    During the late 20th century, industrial capitalism that had previously focused on production, productivity and mass distribution, gave way to financial capitalism. This new version of capitalism focused uniquely on wealth and power. In other words, democracies switched their orientation from a belief in their citizens’ anarchic quest for personal prosperity in the name of the “pursuit of happiness” to the elite’s concentrated focus on the acquisition and accumulation of money and clout.

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    This new social model merged the logic of democratically designed institutions with economic and legal mechanisms that created a sophisticated system at the service of a small number of individuals who understood and controlled the levers of wealth and political power. Their major cultural achievement consisted of giving a sufficiently wide base to this new form of plutocracy that disguised its kleptocratic reality.

    For nearly half a century, the Cold War promoted the spectacle of a combat between democratic capitalism and autocratic communism. Both sides seized the opportunity to build military powerhouses that could provide an effective shelter for the kleptocratic class. Once the heresy of communism was banished from Russia, it could morph, under Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin, into a caricature of the much more subtle kleptocracy encapsulated in Reaganomics.

    The Russian and American versions of economic power management shared the same orientations but deployed them in contrasting ways. Kleptocratic rule was at the core of both. Using a musical analogy, the American philharmonic version of kleptocracy was delivered in Carnegie Hall, with a fully orchestrated score. Russia offered an improvisational version delivered by local musicians in an animated tavern. In both cases, as the proverb says, “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Afghanistan’s Public Intellectuals Fail to Denounce the Taliban

    Unlike most societies, political alignment in Afghanistan is not divided along the right and the left axis. Most of the policy debates in the last two decades of the so-called republic were shaped by the right — either Afghan/Pashtun ethnonationalism or political Islam. At times, both these political strands were amalgamated with naive populism. 

    Currently, political fragmentation and polarization under the Taliban have become an existential conflict over culture and ethnicity. The Taliban are a terrorist group, having successfully synthesized both Islamic extremism and Pashtun/Afghan ethnic chauvinism as their ideology. Ironically, they rule over one of the most diverse countries in the world.

    What the Taliban’s Constitution Means for Afghanistan


    The Taliban use two vague criteria to dismiss all progress made in the past two decades or, for that matter, any undesirable but transformational changes that occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s: Afghan and Islamic values. The first category denies internal social diversity while the second rejects Islamic pluralism. After usurpation of power by force, the group proudly boasted of committing over a thousand suicide attacks. Now, it is officially forming a suicide bombers brigade within its security agencies. 

    Organic Intellectuals

    The exponents of Afghan ethnonationalism desperately aim to present a benign image of the Taliban. Having fundamental, political and social ties with the Taliban, in the words of Antonio Gramsci, they form the Taliban’s “organic intellectuals.” Unlike the traditional intellectuals, Gramsci argues, organic intellectuals are linked with a social class. Contrary to Gramsci, I use it as a negative term as they represent the extreme right. Their genuine undeclared mandate is to articulate and represent the interests and perceptions of the Taliban and to downplay the risks of the group’s rule.

    In other words, these organic intellectuals are systematically engaged in PR for the Taliban. The irony is that the same people are recognized as the voices of Afghanistan rather than of the Taliban in Western academic and think-tank circles. Afghan ethnonationalism and its exponents are only challenged by the Persian-speaking Tajik and Hazara intellectuals, whose voices have been relegated to the margins due to acceptance of the Taliban order as the new normal.

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    The organic intellectuals have the nature of a chameleon, speaking in two different languages to address different audiences and constituencies. On the one hand, they praise and welcome the establishment of the so-called “order,” albeit Taliban-centric, but, with a liberal audience, they speak the language of peaceful coexistence, “cultural particularism,” relativism and political pragmatism. To incorporate such a self-contradictory stance, they adopt a fence-sitting position.

    The justifications of the Taliban made by these organic intellectuals contradict both the realist and moralist approaches in political philosophy. First, let us address the five justifications before returning to the philosophical questions.

    The Taliban Order

    To begin with, treating the Taliban-centric order as default and ignoring the ideological dimension of the Taliban, it argues that the group is adaptable to political and policy reforms. Thus, it tries to undermine the possibility of a thorough transformation of the current scenario through violent means.

    The telos of political reform is expanding the horizons of rights and liberties. In a totalitarian regime, the goal of reform is not to improve the condition of individuals and communities but to consolidate the regime’s power. To suggest political reform essentially means to work with the existing political framework, not its transformation. This entails admitting the terms and conditions of the totalitarian regime.

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    Compared to reforms in an authoritarian regime, the prospect of successful political reform and change toward emancipation in the totalitarian regime is limited because, in the latter, the state is based on a rigid doctrinal ideology. An ideological state does not accommodate change and reform unless there is an alteration in the constituent ideology. The longer a totalitarian regime stays in power, the less likely the possibility for political transformation. Thus, change in a totalitarian regime is easier to achieve in the early stages, when its power is not consolidated. 

    The Taliban government currently installed in Afghanistan is not simply another dictatorship. By all standards, it is a totalitarian regime. A totalitarian regime, according to British philosopher John Gray, is not the one that negates liberal democracy — it is one that brutally suppresses civil society. The Taliban have created a monstrosity equivalent to that of other totalitarian states. 

    Political Pragmatism

    The second justification of Taliban apologists is political pragmatism — the Taliban is a reality that could not be done away with and thus it shall be acknowledged. As part of my research on the Afghanistan peace process, I conducted an opinion poll in 2018 that showed the Taliban’s popularity as below 10% across the country. Thus, this so-called pragmatism is constituted upon a false assumption. But the Taliban are a reality, like racism, Islamic fundamentalism, bigotry and slavery. Also, they are a reality fostered by sponsors: the Pakistani establishment.

    Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning that bigotry, racism and fundamentalism could not be eradicated through endorsements by the intellectuals and those who have a moral commitment to fight them. Irrespective of the logic of morality, one cannot buy the argument to accept bigotry or extremism just because they were a reality. Endorsing the Taliban is equivalent to recognizing their wicked acts. 

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    Third, it is proposed that if we accept the Taliban as a reality, the costs of establishing political order would be reduced. For example, it can prevent another civil war. This argument is built based on a false assumption regarding the nature of the Taliban. Historically, the group has been extremely violent by nature: War, jihad and suicide bombings are an integral part of its ideology. What country in the world prides itself on having suicide squads?

    In the seven months of their rule, the Taliban have killed, tortured and humiliated numerous civilians, former security officers and women’s rights activists, primarily minority groups like the Tajik and Hazara. Moreover, they maintain strong ties with an international community of jihadists, including al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Turkistan Islamic Party, among others. 

    There is an inherent contradiction in the nationalist stance advocating for so-called reconciliation. The nationalists argue that war is costly and hence we should accept working with the Taliban. However, countless civilians being slaughtered or abused by the Taliban on a daily basis is ignored as the human cost of Taliban rule. A doctrinal state imposes its ideology on every single individual even if it is at the cost of the individuals’ lives. 

    Naïve Intellectualism

    Fourth, the naive social-media public intellectuals suppose that they can hold the Taliban accountable by citing some verses of the Quran or some articles of the law of Afghanistan. It is not that ideological totalitarian regimes do not understand what law is; rather the Taliban misuses the law to further limit the sphere of civil society and expand the regime’s control. Hannah Arendt argued that totalitarianism is primarily a denial of law, the emergence of a state in the absence of law. By this standard, the Taliban are simply a totalitarian entity.

    The assumption that the Taliban would be held accountable through a Twitter post is naïve. The issue is not negligence in the application of the law by the Taliban; rather, the fundamental issue is the group’s illegitimate rule. The Taliban have suspended a functioning state apparatus by military takeover of the state that led to the collapse of the republic, purging many technocrats from bureaucracy and creating an environment of terror, intentionally undermining the Doha peace talks.

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    Lastly, cultural particularism suggests that the Taliban represent a specific culture and shall be given time to adapt and develop according to its own history and context. Taking a relativist stance, it is said that there is no ultimate truth and no one is a final arbiter. Thus, relativist logic fails to recognize evil in its totality. The truth about the evil nature of the Taliban could not simply be dismissed by reducing the issue to a matter of a difference of opinion.

    Unlike relativists, cultural pluralists are not naïve enough to engage with evil. According to their line of thinking, although ultimate values are diverse, they are knowable; any order which negates and denies peaceful coexistence is outlawed. The Taliban eschews all forms of coexistence. They treat the Persian-speaking Tajiks, Hazaras and other nationalities as second or third-class subjects. They campaign against Persian cultural heritage such as Nawroz celebrations, the Persian language and much of the country’s pre-Islamic heritage.  

    The Realist/Moralist Challenge

    Exponents of the Taliban have to respond to both a moralist and a realist question in politics. From a moralist standpoint, by neglecting or dismissing any moral standard, they adopt a peace activist cover. They aim to humanize the Taliban in order to make the group pleasantly acceptable. 

    The question here is, what is a morally correct stance against a terrorist group that has a track record of deliberately inciting ethnic hatred, racism, ethnic supremacy, oppression, mass atrocities and terror? The answer is clear: Any act that demonizes humans and perpetuates violence for the sake of subjugation of others is condemned. The perpetrator would thus be fully responsible.

    On the contrary, any single word that misrepresents the Taliban and presents a false benign image of the group is a betrayal of the moral principle of justice, liberty and claims of intellectualism. Any responsible citizen and public intellectual has a moral obligation to not just renounce them publicly but to denounce totalitarian regimes and any act of terror.

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    Denunciation not only entails a public condemnation of evil in its totality but also an avoidance of any word or deed that contributes to the consolidation of the regime. By any standard, a terrorist group does not have a right to rule. Anyone who advises or applauds terrorist statements or policies is morally bankrupt. When faced with a totalitarian regime, one can only be either for or against it.

    Lastly, the realist question is what British philosopher Bernard Williams calls the Basic Legitimation Demand (BLD): “the idea of meeting the BLD implies a sense in which the state has to offer a justification of its power to each subject.” This is the very first question in politics.

    Before any other virtues, a state has to present an acceptable answer to those that it rules. Otherwise, the people who consider themselves alien to the rulers and have a basic fear of subjugation, humiliation and persecution, as well as those who are radically disadvantaged, have every right to disobey. As Williams says, “there is nothing to be said to this group to explain why they shouldn’t revolt.”

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More