27 November, 2009

Video of the Day 27/11/09 – Massacre in Mindanao

Al Jazeera. 26 November 2009.

This video is the best I have yet seen on the Mindanao massacre. Al Jazeera has once again has trumped Western news organizations in investigative ability.

The composure of Ismael Mangudadatu is astounding. To lose a wife and a sister and still have the fortitude to carry on the campaign and reject reprisal killings – it is astounding. The world needs more men like Ismael Mangudadatu. One can only hope that he wins the campaign.

26 November, 2009

Our Esteemed Ally, the Executioner of Sorcerers.

Human Rights Watch sent this gem to my inbox today:

(Kuwait City) - The cassation court in Mecca should overturn the death sentence imposed on Ali Sabat by a lower court in Medina on November 9 for practicing witchcraft, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government to cease its increasing use of charges of "witchcraft" which remains vaguely defined and arbitrarily used....

"Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The crime of ‘witchcraft' is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions."

I did not realize that witchcraft was still an issue in need of state intervention. Was it naive to think that humanity left this behind four centuries ago?

Perhaps it was: Saudi Arabia is a land that exists outside the normal course of history. Arabia is ruled by a monarchy of the medieval cast. While common knowledge, it bears repeating: Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Few governments have so brilliantly succeeded in snuffing out the liberties of its subjects as have the Saudis. It is a challenge to find a society more backwards than theirs.

This includes Iran. There are few crimes the Iranians have committed that the Saudis have not matched. Human rights abuse for human rights abuse, the two stand equal by most measures of oppression.

They are equals in barbarity, but not in standing. One is the subject of sanctions, restrictions, and ridicule. The other is the beneficiary of global goodwill. One has been completely cut away from America. The other's diplomats are offered many a place in Washington's smoke-filled backrooms. One is an enemy. The other is an ally. Quite curious is the United State's foreign policy!

America has a penchant for asking other great powers to take a firm line with illicit regimes. "If only Russia, China, and India would cooperate", we say, "then Burma, North Korea, and Iran would never be problems." Do we expect this rhetoric to be taken seriously? Are we so conceited as to imagine that the United States can cajole the world into pressuring rogue states who dislike America into submission while offering patronage to the oppressive regimes who seem to fancy us?

Remember the sentence of Ali Sabat. He shall die for committing sorcery. To my fellow Americans, this citizen must ask: is this what we stand for? We speak of spreading American values. Do we mean the values of Salem, '92?

24 November, 2009

Video of the Day 23/11/09 -- East vs. West: the Myths that Mystify

East vs. West -- the Myths that Mystify
Devdutt Pattanik. TED. November 2009.

I endorse this presentation with some hesistance. Pattanik's presentation is convincing, even brilliant, but there are limitations to the argument he makes.

It has been 30 years since the publication of Edward Said's Orientalism. The book's publication brought about the collapse of traditional Asian and Near Eastern Studies (the "Orientalism" referenced in the title) across the world of academia. Said rightly pointed out that boiling down an entire people or belief system into one easily digestible and cohesive whole is an exercise in the absurd. Such efforts do not build bridge divides, they create them.

The danger of Pattanik's presentation is a fall into orientalism. While Pattanik does not go so far himself, it is an error his ideas naturally facilitate. When discussing the great differences between the Indian world view and the Western world view, it is very easy to forget that the similarities between "them" and "us" outweigh the differences. The Indian is not some mystical other.

Pattanik's belief that Hindu mythology serves as an able explanation for all of India's cultural quirks should also be taken with a grain of salt. It is worth remembering that the majority of Indians, even in today's age of rising literacy, have not read the Ramayana. Furthermore, Pattanik seems to forget India's recent history – contact between India and the rest did not end with Alexander. From 1605 to 1947 India was ruled by non-Hindus. Surely these Abrahamic peoples, as well as the institutions and 'myths' they brought to India, had some effect on "Indian psyche"?

With all of these caveats stated in mind, I encourage you to watch this video. He does get a few important things right. I have had the opportunity to work with and befriend many Indians in my life -- in particular, my recent move to Hawai'i has allowed me to become well acquainted with the Indian expatriate community in my local area. And in dealing with Indians so often, it becomes hard to deny that there really is something different about their reactions and actions from that of your average American's.

I believe that Pattanik outlined some of these unique cultural characteristics very well. In particular, I found his portrayal of the "relative" Indian spot-on. The word I hear every day – I swear every time I ask an Indian for an opinion – is "mostly." By the audience's reaction to Pattanik's words, I do not think my experience has been unique.

This attitude has interesting implications for India's foriegn affairs. India and the United States are growing closer to each other by the day. The writing on the wall points towards an alliance between the two sometime in the near future.* I am markedly less sure how stable such an alliance will be. The United States has enjoyed clear-cut alliances in its recent history. NATO and U.S.-Japanese alliance typify this kind of relationship. In the foresseable future it is doubtable that the Indians will ever have such open and unabashed relations with any nation, including the United States. But will the United States be able to accept this? Is America ready to be "mostly" an ally?

It is a good question. One worth further discussion, no doubt.

*A discussion which deserves its own post, but trails off the topic here.

20 November, 2009

The Best Headline of the Month Goes to....

I know I used this line two weeks ago. I ask you to excuse me for recycling it. At the time of the original post I had thought that the CATO headline was the cleverest I was going to see – readings in international affairs are more dry than you would think – but it seems that I was wrong.

The article is as fair an introduction to the EU's new President and Foreign Minister as anything published in the American press.

P.S. The Economist gets brownie points for providing another humorous headline marking the ascension of Europe's first chairman-in-chief.

16 November, 2009

The Blog Role Just Got a Bit Bigger

I have added two new sites to the 'Naturalist' section of my blog roll, Yale Environment 360 and Wandering Gaia.

Two articles posted at Yale Environment 360 prompted its addition to my feed reader. The first is an essay by Jonathan Foley titled "The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use". The abstract of the essay describes  the piece better than I can:
As the international community focuses on climate change as the great challenge of our era, it is ignoring another looming problem — the global crisis in land use. With agricultural practices already causing massive ecological impact, the world must now find new ways to feed its burgeoning population and launch a "Greener" Revolution.
This is a position I agree with whole heartily. Indeed, I am tempted to go further than Foley and suggest that unsustainable agricultural practices are a danger much greater than that posed by climate change. If the climate were to be held in stasis for the next century the "land use crisis" would still be a crisis. Climate change simply makes the existing problem worse. It stands to reason that any attempt to solve the climate crisis must begin by solving ecological crises already in existence.

The recognition that mitigating carbon emissions does not truly overcome the challenges posed by climate change is also found in the second Yale E360 piece. This essay, titled "Coping With Climate Change: Which Societies Will Do Best?", also has a wonderful abstract:

As the world warms, how different societies fare in dealing with rising seas and changing weather patterns will have as much to do with political, social, and economic factors as with a changing climate.

I could not have said it better myself.* This essay's publication in such a prominent forum is a very good sign. All too often discussion of adaptation is side lined in climate policy circles, despite its monumental importance.  I suppose that cap-and-trade pet projects are simply more sexy than practical solutions to real development problems.

As it turns out, the author of this second post, Gaia Vince, has her own website. I found her blog (the afore mentioned Wandering Gaia) to be a fascinating read -- Gaia has been trekking across the world for a year now, "visit[ing] the people, animals, plants and places that will be most affected by the impacts of climate change." Her blog is a stellar record of the sights she has seen and the musings they have prompted. It is certainly one of the more interesting and insightful websites I have come across in a long while.

As with all my blog roll additions, I encourage you to check these websites out and add them to your own weekly reads.

*Except that I have. Or something close to it.

15 November, 2009

Naxalism: A Short Introduction to India's Scariest Security Challenge

Prime Minister Mahoman Singh has called them "the single biggest security challenge ever faced by our country". Fourteen Indian states are struggling to battle the insurgency waged by their 20,000 fighters. Over the last three years some 2,600 people have died by their hands.

These are the Naxalites, the source of India's scariest security challenge.

Naxalism. It is a topic few in the West are aware of. The international media lends little attention to India's Maoist insurgents, choosing instead to focus its attention on the more dramatic attacks of groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba. It is hard to blame them: writing about Islamic terrorism has become too easy. There is no need to perform substantive reporting or analysis on the cause of events; pundits simply need to boil down Muslim gunmen and bombers to the level of caricature and the news has been written. Naxalism, in contrast, does not lend itself to such easy stereotypes. Not surprisingly, most media outlets have been conspicuously quiet about the movement.

This silence is not sustainable. Indeed, last month an attack staged by the Naxalites was so spectacular that even the New York Times could not ignore it. On the eighth of October 200 Naxalites ambushed a large contingent of Maharashtri police commandos, killing 17 of them in a gunfight staged in broad daylight. As the Indian government begins a major nation-wide paramilitary offensive against the Naxalites, the ambush on the eighth shall surely be but the first of many battles.
I suspect that as this conflict enlarges in scope and drags through time the word "Naxalite" shall lose its alien sound. The day will come when Beltway analysts will pronounce the fate of Chhattisgarh in the same steady voice as they prophesize of Xinjiang; soon the pundit class will talk as freely of the Naxalites as they do the P.K.K.

However, this is all in the future -- the post below is for those of you who want a head start.


The term "Naxalite" is derived from Naxalbari, the name of the West-Bengal town where India's Maoist movement began. During the late 1960s the Communist Party of India was sharply divided on how to bring about India's communist revolution. The party broke into two camps: those in favor of a attaining power by election, whereby the party would have the influence to provide momentum for a great urban uprising, and those in favor of utilizing the country's vast peasant class to bring about a government-toppling armed insurrection. In 1967 Charu Mazumdar, a member of this second camp, grew tired with the Communist Party's dithering and debates and set out to begin the revolution himself. The Naxalbari revolts were the result of his efforts.

Mazumdar called his new movement the "All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries", but most Indians  knew the group by their place of origin, and began to call all Maoist-style guerrillas "Naxalites."  The movement was supported by two very different groups: leftist college students (mostly from Kolkotta), and the poor delits and adivasis who had just survived the worst famine India had suffered in a century by the skin of their teeth. A steady flow of aid from China further strengthened the movement, allowing it to spread beyond the Naxalbari region itself, taking root in Andrah Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. 

From this point on events turned against the Naxalites. Chinese aid was cut off in the early 70s when the Chinese Comunist Party ended their long standing policy of funding Asian Maoist groups. A brutal counterterror campaign by Bengali police decimated the ranks of the Naxilite faithful. To top things off, Mazumdar himself was captured by state police, and he stayed in their custody until his death in 1972.

Absent a steady source of funding, a base of operations, and a leader, the Naxalite movement fell apart. What had been one organization splintered into 30, divided and prone to factional infighting, Mazumdar's mass movement was forced to the precipice of Indian society. Only in rural areas far removed from government power did Naxalism retain a vestige of popular support.

This state of affairs was the status quo well into the 1990s. By this time Naxalism had been reduced to irrelevancy, prompting national and state governments to focus on more pressing problems. Given breathing space the Naxalites were able to to rebound and then expand. By 2004 the two largest Naxalite factions joined together to form a new organization, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). The creation of CPI-Maoist was a watershed event, ending the era of interfactional  violence among the Naxalbari and paving the way for a Naxalite resurgence.


Naxalism thrives in the regions of India devoid of state control and subject to endemic poverty. Naxalites are often welcomed with open arms in such circumstances;  those leading lives of toil in India's isolated jungle villages eagerly grasp opportunities to escape the system of oppression and impoverishment that dominates rural India. Once welcomed in, CPI-Maoists construct a shadow-state, complete with taxes, regulations, and courts, all ostensibly for the betterment of disenfranchised delit peasants and tribal groups.

Yet for these oppressed groups seeking recourse by way of Naxalite is inevitably a Faustian bargain. When it becomes clear that a Naxal shadow state has supplanted the authority of state government police forces are sent to drive the Naxalites out. In the violence that follows it is the delits and tribals who suffer most.

That Naxalite groups find continued support in rural areas despite the ills that accompany their presence marks another aspect of the regions Naxalites favor: the absence of an educated citizenry. The states with a significant Naxal presence all have literacy rates below the national average; the gap in literacy found between Bihar (54%) and Kerala (91% ) mirrors the extant of Naxalite control in the two states.

The area of India where support for the Naxalism runs highest has been called "the red corridor", a long stretch of territory reaching from southern tip of Andhra Pradesh to the eastern regions of West Bengal. The intensity of Naxalite insurgency varies across this stretch; in most places Naxalites rule unopposed only in remote pockets and patches of the region's countryside.

In the past opposition from the rural population of Eastern India has kept Naxalism from growing past these remote pockets. The response to CPI-Maoists's expansion was violent; many rural landowners would not tolerate a Naxalite shadow state and founded anti-Maoist militias in an attempt at armed resistance. The pattern was set by the Salwa Judum, a grass roots resistance movement in Chhattisgarh that was co-opted by the state government soon after its founding. Eager to find a quick fix to the Naxalite problem, the government of Chhattisgarh paid members of the Salwa Judum as "Special Police Officers" and ordered them to clear the jungle of Naxalite influence. The battles that followed this command resulted in thousands of internal refugees across the state. The heavy handed tactics of the Salwa Judum and their government patrons alienated many of the state's rural poor, and early this year the last vestiges of the movement disappeared.

The same cannot be said for the Naxalites. Every bit of lost legitimacy for the Indian government was a gain for the Naxalite's shadow state; by the end of this summer the Naxalites had enough popular authority to 
set up road blocks on national highways and frisk employees of the Chhattisgarh government.

The surge in Naxalite power is not limited to Chhattisgarh. Multiple states, some outside the red corridor, have seen a troubling growth in Naxalite related violence. Part of the reason the October 8th ambush made headlines is because it did not occur in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, or Orissa, the four states traditionally subject to Naxal violence.

The scope this violence has ensured action on the part of India's central government. Last month the Central Reserve Police Force reported that it had lost six times the number of men to Naxalites this year than it has to all other groups in all other combat zones, including Kashmir.  This month the CRPF announced that it was launching a nation-wide operation to counter the Naxal threat. Titled "Operation Green Hunt", the campaign is expected to last two years.

We will see. As this blog has noted in the past, counterinsurgency campaigns  do not operate on a small time scale. This is but the beginning of another long war.


Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)
South Asian Terrorism Portal. 2008.

An invaluable resource for those concerned with Indian security issues, the South Asian Terrorism Portalt has in depth intelligence reports on most of India's terrorist organizations. This particular report provides a summary of CPI-Maoist's history, ideology, structure, and current activities. This is easily the best summary of CPI-Maoist that I have seen online.

Communist Party of India (Maoist): Documents, Statements, and Interviews of Leaders
Banned Thought. Last updated November 13 2009.

A collection of CPI-Moist documents and propaganda materials. As the title of the site indicates, all of these materials have been censored in India.

Charu Mazumdar: Reference Archive.
Marxists.org. 2003.

A collection of Charu Mazumdar's manifestos.

India's Forgotten War

An exhaustive aggregator and analyzer on all news items related to Naxalism.

Revolution in South Asia

A comprehensive blog that covers Maoist movements across South and Southeastern Asia... from the perspective of the Maoists.

Naxalite Rage

Shlok Vaidya's blog on India's security environment, guerrilla warfare, and "the far-flung implications" of a globally connected Naxalite insurgency.


Volume 31. October 2009.

Pragati released a special edition devoted to Naxalism and how the Indian government how to best over come it. 

While the entire volume is top-notch, I recommend Raj Cherubal's "Hope is the Antidote to Naxalism", Ankur Kumar's "Money and Friends", and Sushant K Singh & Nitin Pai's "Winning the Counterinsurgency Endgame" for those pressed for time.

A Spectre Haunting India

The Economist. 17 August 2006.

A good introduction to the conditions in which Naxalism arises.

Naxal Movement in India: A Profile.
Kujur, Rajat. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 2008.

An in depth history of the Naxal movement, with an emphasis on the movement post-Mazumdar.

On War Footing.
Datta, Sakait. Outlook India. 13 October 2009.

A short but detailed overview of what Operation Green Hunt will look like.

Operation Green Hunt launched. But where are the Naxals?
The Times of India. 7 November 2009.

The Times points out the prime difficulty in waging war against the Naxalites.

India: Draconian Response to Naxalite Violence.
Human Rights Watch. 6 April 2006.

Being Neutral is our Biggest Crime: Government, Vigilante, and Naxalite Abuses in India's Chhattisgarh State
Human Rights Watch. 14 June 2008.

Dangerous Duty: Children and the Chhattisgarh Conflict
Human Rights Watch. 5 September 2008.

Human Rights Watch has recorded a plethora of human rights violations surrounding this conflict. I do not expect things to get better any time soon.

03 November, 2009

The Best Headline of the Month Award Goes to...

...Neal McCluskley of the CATO Institute.

Of late CATO@Liberty has produced some content sure to be of interest to readers of the Stage. While ideologues to the core, the CATO folks have a special talent for brevity, humor, and citing smart sources. (The posts immediately preceding and following McCluskley's piece serve as fair examples of such.) If you have not done so already, I heartily recommend adding this blog to your RSS feed.


In India, Educated but Unemployable Youth
Rama Laskimi.
Washington Post. 9 May 2009.

Laskimi brings up many of the same points as McCluskley - but uses India as the case example.