Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Racism in America: Police chokehold is not the issue

The American project was founded on rank hypocrisies. On the one hand, President Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the stirring words in the Declaration of Independence that upheld “these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal”, did not free his own slaves (not even Sally Hemings, who bore him six children).

Similarly, the Constitution of the US, celebrated as one of the finest examples of a self-conscious construction of a liberal democratic order, defined Blacks as only three-fifths of a person, not a full human being. Though “slave trade” was abolished by Congress in 1808, a brisk market in slaves continued since it was considered essential to the “Southern life-style” and the mode of production in a plantation economy. Even in 1857, the Supreme Court ruled (Dred Scott v Sanford) that Black people were to be deemed “property”, not “citizens”.

It took a Civil War and three momentous amendments to the constitution (the 13th in 1865, the 14th in 1868, and the 15th in 1870) for slavery to be abolished, for Blacks to be accorded the “due process” protections of citizenship, and for them to receive the right to vote. (Women did not receive that right till the 19th amendment in 1920).

While the abject inhumanity of slavery may have been legally mitigated to some extent, the institutions, practices and values of exclusion, exploitation and devaluation were not.  Constitutional guarantees, and Supreme Court decisions, could be cleverly subverted by the states.  For example, Black people were denied the right to vote through poll taxes, arbitrary registration requirements, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, white primaries and so on. In 1940, 70 years after they had received the right to vote, only 3 percent of Blacks in the South were registered as voters.  Less overt voter suppression efforts continue to this day.

Similarly, discriminatory laws in many Southern states also imposed second-class citizenship on them. There were restrictions on residence, employment, bank loans, travel (they had to sit in the back of the bus) and, till the Court’s decision in Brown (1954), the schools they could attend. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 removed many of these ostensible barriers, but the shadows remained long, corrosive and cruel.

While slavery may have been “the original sin” through which America came into being, its treatment of other minorities was not very tender. The ones who suffered the most immediately and most grievously were the Native Americans. This land which was theirs was taken away from them. Today, most live in reservations which constitute only 4 percent of US land area.  

They were also physically decimated. They became collateral damage in the relentless westward expansion of the Europeans based on notions of “manifest destiny”. They were killed through forced marches—e.g. the “trail of tears” between 1830-1850, when almost 60,000 of them were uprooted from their habitats and relocated elsewhere, with almost one-fourth dying on the way. There were massacres—e.g. in Bear River, Idaho, 1863, Oak Run, California, 1864, Sand Creek, Colorado, 1864, Marias, Montana, 1870, Wounded Knee, South Dakota, 1890, and many others.  And there were summary executions—e.g. the largest execution in US history was that of Dakota men in Mankato after the Sioux Wars in 1862.

When Columbus “discovered” America, the Native population was between 10-15 million. By the end of the 19th century, thanks to the efforts to civilise and Christianize those “red savages”, it had been reduced to 238,000. Today, it is less than 7m, or about 2 percent of the population.

Smaller minority groups in the US faced similar discrimination. Jews were saddled with the long-standing accusation of being “Christ-killers” and their intellectual and financial skills generated envy and anxiety. They were also considered to be consummate conspirators intent on taking over the world, ironically as bankers and financiers (Henry Ford’s argument), or as Bolshevik revolutionaries (Hitler’s conviction, also echoed in the US).    

The Chinese were the only people to be formally denied immigration into the country through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Many Chinese, welcomed earlier as “coolie” labourers to lay the railroad tracks, faced harsh treatment and even violence. The Japanese, restricted through a “gentleman’s agreement” in 1907 from coming into the country any more, were herded into internment camps after Pearl Harbor even though there was not a shred of evidence that anyone had done anything wrong. “Indians”, i.e. those from South Asia, were not considered to be “free Whites” and thus not eligible for citizenship (US v Bhagat Singh Thind, 1923). Asian immigration was completely banned in 1924 and, when the door was slightly opened in 1946, limited by strict quotas of about 100 annually from these three countries. 

Thus racism was sown right into the fabric of American history, practices and values. The question that is frequently asked is why, while other minority groups subjected to discrimination were able to prosper later, Blacks did not. There is usually a racist subtext to that question to underscore White assumptions about Black laziness, intellectual inferiority, moral weakness, and collective inability to cooperate, organise and develop social capital. That conclusion is both self-serving and untrue.

First, no other group endured the sheer ferocity and persistence of bigotry in the same way that Blacks did. All others (except Native Americans, whose conditions have not improved) had voluntarily come to the country. The Blacks were captured, enslaved and commodified. They were not scrappy immigrants who came to the land of opportunity to pursue the American dream; they were forcibly brought here and left to contend with their American nightmare. 

Second, while others also faced stereotypes and prejudice, none encountered the uncouth mockery and the sheer physical violence that were inflicted on the Blacks. Minstrel shows, which caricatured Black people as sub-human beings (played by White folks in blackface), were wildly popular. 

But it was the slaps and kicks, the lashes and chains, the nigger hunting licenses and tar-and-featherings, the burning of crosses and the lynchings that were emblematic of the dehumanisation of Black people. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 Blacks were lynched. Many of these lynchings became public events which communities enjoyed as spectacle and the celebration of White power.

It is certainly not that Blacks only understood the language of violence. But this was certainly the only language preferred by Whites to speak to them. Those attitudes and tropes remained, manifested in new forms, sometimes hiding behind police badges. This is vigilante justice dispensed and protected by the instruments of the state, and sanctioned by historical practice. Hence we hear about teaching them a lesson, demonstrating overwhelming force, putting them in their place, to “dominate” as President Trump advised the other day, threatening to use the military if needed. It is for this reason too that Philonise Floyd poignantly pointed out, in his testimony to the US Congress, that his brother had been subjected to a modern-day lynching. 

Third, there was a psycho-sexual dimension to this relationship that complicated matters even further. While White men had always been fiercely protective of “their women”, their concern and insecurity regarding Black men were particularly pronounced. Even a hint, a look, a word, the slightest of moves that could be construed as expressing Black lust for a White woman, would provoke savage reprisal. This lasted well into the 20th century.

In 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Black teenager was accused of molesting a white woman, even though she never pressed charges. In the resulting carnage, there were 10-15 White casualties and, by some estimates, up to 300 Black. The entire Black neighbourhood of Greenwood was set on fire, and more than a thousand homes and businesses were destroyed. Not a single person was convicted.   

Similarly, in 1955, Emmet Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting his aunt in Mississippi, was accused of making a pass at a White woman by whistling at her. The boy was tortured to death, so badly brutalised that his mother could not even recognise her own son. The perpetrators were acquitted by an all-White jury. 

Ahrar Ahmad is Director General, Gyantapas Abdur Razzaq Foundation, Dhaka

(The second part of this article will be published next week – A Rahman)

                                                       

Bangladesh, Cultural, Economic, Human Rights, International, Literary, Political, Religious

Egregious allegations of communalism against Rabindranath

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) lived through a very turbulent phase in Indian and world history – the period when British Raj attained the peak of its colonial power and exercised most brutal authority in India, the period when Bengal (the state which allowed the first foothold of British merchants in India at the beginning of 18th century) was partitioned off and then annulled, the period of two world wars and the period which saw the rise of unstoppable swadeshi (self-rule) movement.

A poet, a novelist, a litterateur, an artist, a reformer, in short, a myriad of a man, Rabindranath Tagore lived and died in the thick of actions. He not only advanced Bengali language and culture to the world scene but also gave Bengalis – Hindus and Muslims alike – their self-esteem, identity and cultural heritage. His songs are used as national anthems in India as well as in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka’s national anthem drew inspirations from his song.

However, a large section of Bangladeshi die-hard Muslims with the mind-set of Pakistani religious antagonism towards Hindus had been sniping at Tagore ever since the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The allegations ranged from Rabindranath being communal and anti-Muslims, citing that he opposed the partition of Bengal to deny the Muslims a separate homeland and he opposed setting up of Dhaka University etc. All of these allegations were egregious and conjecture of bigoted minds.

Many Bengali Muslims who lay such allegations on Rabindranath quote Major General (Retd) M A Matin’s book called ‘Amader Swadhinata Sangramer Dharabahikata ebong Prasangik kicchu Katha (Chronology of our freedom struggle and some associated discussions) published by Ahmad Publishing House, Dhaka in 2000. The Retd. Army Officer placed most of his allegations on heresy without any substantiation or corroboration and packaged such opinions as statement of facts!

The author, M A Matin, implied throughout the book that Rabindranath was an orthodox Hindu and hence anti-Muslim and that was why he opposed the partition of Bengal. As a further proof of his anti-Muslim character, he was stated to have opposed the setting up of Dacca (now Dhaka) University.

Let us look at the points whether Rabindranath was an orthodox Hindu and anti-Muslim or not and the reason for his opposition to the partition of Bengal. And then I would look into his attitude towards Dhaka University.

If one looks into Tagore’s ancestry over the last few centuries, one would find that Tagore’s Brahmin clan, who hailed from Jessore, had long and close association with Muslims. Two Brahmin Tagore brothers in Jessore were close to Mohammad Tahir Pir Ali, the wazir of the governor of Jessore, who himself was a Brahmin but converted to Islam for matrimonial and financial reasons. Tahir Pir Ali made Tagore brothers smell and eventually eat meat (probably beef) and because of that event the brothers had been expelled from the orthodox Brahmin sect. However, their whole family remained Brahmins and the brothers were ostracised as ‘Pirali Brahmins’ (Ref: Rabindranath Tagore, The myriad-minded man by Krishna Dutta & Andrew Robinson, Bloomsbury Publishing, UK).

These two brothers (Pirali Brahmins) eventually left Jessore due possibly to social discord and moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata). One of these two brothers’ descendants – two brothers – Darpanarayan settled at Pathuriaghat (whose descendant includes Sharmila Tagore) and Nilmoni (the great-great-grandfather of Rabindranath) settled at Jorasanko. His descendant, Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, a flamboyant zamindar, and his son Debendranath, Rabindranath’s father, started the Brahmo Samaj, which was a sort of philosophical belief more akin to Buddhism and animism. Now, to allege Rabindranath Tagore, a Pirali Brahmin, was an orthodox Brahmin and anti-Muslim would be very much off the mark. Rabindranath published a book called ‘Religion of Man’ which propounded a religion embodying humanity, a religion of human consciousness merging into the limitless creation – shimar majhe ashim tumi. Rabindranath Tagore’s own description of his family as depicted in ‘The Religion of Man’ was, “The unconventional code of life for our family has been a confluence of three cultures, the Hindu, Mohammedan and British”.

In his writings, Rabindranath always showed empathy with the Muslims. In his novel called ‘Ghare Baire’ (The Home and the World), the main character, a Hindu zamindar, stated quite boldly that he would not condone Swadeshi activities if it meant hurting his Muslim subjects – those people were abject poor people, they did not have the luxury of boycotting foreign goods and lose their living. As the story goes, the zamindar gave up his own life when he went to protect his Muslim subjects in the thick of Hindu-Muslim riot. Rabindranath was roundly criticised for such narratives.

It is beyond dispute that Rabindranath opposed the partition of Bengal, not because he wanted to deny the Muslims a separate homeland but because he wanted Hindus and Muslims live together in amity and harmony, as they had been doing for centuries. Moreover, it was quite natural for the Tagore clan to oppose partition, because Tagore’s roots were in East Bengal – Tagore’s zamindari was in Shilaidaha (Kushtia), Rabindranath’s wife was from Jessore (now in the district of Khulna) (Jessore and Khulna were in one district called Jessore until 1892. Rabindranath’s wife, Mrinalini was from Khulna, Ref. Islam o Rabindranath Anyanya Prasanga, by Amitabh Chowdhury, ISBN No. 81-7293-188-3) and the Tagore family maintained close ties with their ancestral home ever since they moved to Kolkata. The partition would deprive Tagore family of its roots. The partition of Bengal was implemented on October 16, 1905. On the day of partition, Rabindranath peacefully and in a friendly gesture initiated the Rakhibandhan (the tying of Rakhi, meaning friendship). The partition was, however, annulled in December 12, 1911.

The very stipulation that the proposed partition of East Bengal would provide a homeland for the Muslims was ludicrous and bog-headed in those days. Those brain-washed Muslims who propagate this view of separate homeland for Muslims are trying to backfit 1940s events (demand for Pakistan) back into the 1900s to tarnish Rabindranath’s character for opposing the partition.

It was stated in MA Matin’s above mentioned book that on March 28, 1912 a huge meeting was organised at Garer Math, Kolkata to protest against the proposed setting-up of Dhaka University and that meeting was presided over by Rabindranath Tagore. Afterwards a delegation of top-level Hindu leaders went to meet Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India, and warned him that the establishment of Dhaka University would face the similar fate to the partition of Bengal. However, there were no reference or corroboration of Rabindranath’s attendance in Garer Math meeting in MA Matin’s book; simply his unsubstantiated assertion.  AZM Abdul Ali, editorial board member of literary magazine ‘Kali o Kolom’, in an article immediately after the publication of MA Matin’s book disputed the statement that Rabindranath attended the meeting and asked MA Matin to provide reference or source of his information, but there was no reply!

An article by Asahabur Rahman in Dhaka Tribune on May 16, 2018 stated that a search in Tagore archives showed that on March 28, 1912 Rabindranath was at Shilaidaha. He left Kolkata on March 24 and stayed at Shilaidaha until April 12 recuperating from his illness. However, he composed 17 poems and songs during those days and, as he usually put the date and name of the place where he composed a piece, he put Shilaidaha as the place where those pieces were composed during that period. So, how could Rabindranath be in Kolkata on March 28, as the MA Matin asserted? 

The Dhaka University was established on the basis of recommendations made by the Nathan Commission, appointed by the government of Bengal, on May 27, 1912. However, due to the outbreak of WW1 (Aug 1914 – Nov 1918), the Commission recommendations were shelved and then nearer the end of the war, the government of India established another Commission -the Saddler Commission – in November 1917 to look into that outstanding matter. On the basis of positive recommendation by the Saddler Commission in March 1919, Dhaka University was eventually established in 1921.

Rabindranath visited Dhaka in February 1926 as a guest of Nawab of Dhaka, Khwaja Habibullah. He was given three receptions by the Dhaka University – two were organised by the Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) held at the Curzon Hall and the other at Salimullah Muslim Hall (S M Hall) organised by the students of the Hall. If Tagore had been against the establishment of Dhaka University, it was highly unlikely that within five years the students of the university would forget all about his opposition and extend warm welcome and give cordial receptions by the Muslim and Hindu students alike! In addition, various institutions and organisations in Dhaka such as the Jagannath College, Dhaka Collegiate School, Hindu-Muslim Seba Sangha, Dhaka Municipality, Peoples’ Association etc organised special receptions for him.

So, where is the evidence of Tagore’s opposition to the establishment of Dhaka University? MA Matin made the allegations against Tagore without any foundation, without any evidence. Professor Rafiqul Islam of Dhaka University wrote a book entitled Dhaka Bisshobidyaloyer Ashi Bochor based on his long research. His findings didn’t support MA Matin’s assertions at all. Some of the Bengali Muslim writers, now and in the recent past, blinded by Islamic zeal tied up Tagore’s opposition to Bengal partition (which he opposed in order to maintain communal harmony) and fabricated Tagore’s opposition to the Dhaka University to make up a well-rounded story of Tagore’s anti-Muslimness! It is a classic case of joining up a lie with a truth and packaging the whole thing as truth!

 –          Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.   

Cultural, Economic, Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

Donald Trump’s true colour

It is said that a man should be known not by the colour of his skin, but by the colour of his inner self. Donald Trump is no exception. Although his skin colour is white, but the colour of his inner self is absolutely dreadful – a dark vicious colour full of stinking rotting garbage discarded by civilised human beings over the centuries. His rotten mind or brain is the repository of all that is nasty and despicable that decent human beings had shamefully chucked out, but eagerly absorbed and assimilated by this white supremacist and his cabal.

One does not need to dig deep into the history to find out his colour, the short 10 minutes briefing that he gave on May 29, 2020 at the White House lawn would expose his true colour. Of course, one may bring out other associated issues that he gorged out previously to put the spectrum of his colour, but I will concentrate here on his recent briefing.

When the White House announced that the president would give a briefing on a wide range of topical issues, the American radio, television and newspaper journalists as well as major world media journalists were present at the venue. After more than 50 minutes delay (no apology offered), the president arrived at the podium surrounded by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who stood in military attention next to him and a few other body guards surrounded him. It looked like a mafia godfather appearing in public with his security guards around him with fingers on the triggers.

The president concentrated exclusively on China bashing and dishing out lies and innuendoes on China. The gist of his speech was this: China produced this coronavirus (Covid-19) streak in Wuhan and then exported that to America and Europe (to draw Europe into his fold). To prove the credibility of his claim, he asked rhetorically why then there were no coronavirus cases in other cities and towns in China and only in America and Europe? He implied that infected Chinese people were then sent to America and Europe to spread the disease.

The idiocy of the argument is that how could China send their citizens (with coronavirus infection) without American connivance? Didn’t America give those supposedly infected Chinese nationals the visas after medical tests? With visa records for the months of January, February and March 2020, America could easily find out the individuals, the places they visited and how the virus had spread, rather than making imbecile and unsubstantiated claim of China’s export of this disease.

It may be mentioned that Mike Pompeo had been spreading this lie from the end of April that there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the coronavirus had emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but he never disclosed what that evidence was. The US intelligence agencies concluded and reported that it was not a man-made virus. A German spy agency (BND) casts doubt on the American accusation that the virus, COVID-19, originated in a Chinese laboratory. In fact, the German intelligence report prepared for the German Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, concluded that the U.S. accusations were a deliberate attempt to divert public attention away from President Donald Trump’s “own failures”. Prof. Tasuku Honjo, Japanese Nobel Laureate in 2018 in Medicine or Physiology, had categorically refuted the false claim that had been circulating in the social media that he said that “Covid-19 is man-made and not natural”. Honjo said, “In the wake of the pain, economic loss and unprecedented global suffering caused by Covid-19 pandemic, I am greatly saddened that my name and that of Tokyo University have been used to spread false accusations and mis-information”. The five nations’ joint spy agency representing US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would not support Pompeo’s claim.

Even if we assume that China did produce the virus, couldn’t white Americans carry the virus back to America? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of white Americans working in Wuhan province on various collaborative projects or on outsourced American companies. Of course, there are hundreds of thousands of Chinese-origin Americans who may go back and forth between America and China. But they are Americans. The racist president Donald Trump may deny that and call them Chinese, but he is blatantly wrong. He asked a Chinese American reporter working for the CNN in America to ask the question ‘why so many Americans are dying now?’ to the Chinese government, which is blatantly a racist comment.

Donald Trump raised the issue of why there were no cases in China, apart from Wuhan. His knowledge base and information feedback are very poor. There were cases in Beijing and in other cities. But what China did immediately after the identification of the virus was to lockdown the whole city of Wuhan, a city of more than 10 million people, completely. The western press (including American’s) started saying that the measure was excessive and, in any case, it was only possible because China was an autocratic state; in a democratic state it would not be possible. However, China contained the virus, but in democratic America (!) with Donald Trump as the president, people are dying in droves.

Donald Trump did not take any measure to contain the virus from January until the middle of March, but was bragging that America was well prepared to tackle the virus. He was advising people in tweets that they should take it as flu. When people started dying in New York underground carriages from Covid-19, he blamed the NY Mayor for not taking measures in time!

This is the president who was blaming China for this virus, when his own country was in flames. Race riots were raging for four nights (against the killing of an unarmed Afro-American man by a white police officer) in Minneapolis and in all other big cities when he made that statement; but he said not a single word to address those aggrieved rioters. On the other hand, three days ago (6th day of unrest), he tweeted that ‘when the looting starts, the shooting begins’ and that inflamed the anger of the protesters even more. Now, the riot has spread to more than 70 cities and towns in America, curfew had been imposed and the National Guards had been called in to quell the race riots. The country is in flames, but the racist president wants to punish the Afro-Americans with the ‘severest weapon’. On last Friday night, the rioters came round the White House to show their anger, started burning cars and mayhem followed. The security police had to take the president to the underground bunker of the white house for his security. From the bunker, he possibly wanted to deploy Army in the streets of America! So far is his jingoism!

In matters of foreign policy, this president is an abject failure. He had torn up the nuclear deal with Iran that took years of patient and delicate negotiations between the 5+1 states (including America) and Iran. The deal was going through nicely to completion until this man came along and threw the whole thing into fire.

This man denies global warming and claims that climate change is a fictious thing.  He has withdrawn America from Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, immediately after becoming president he restarted the coal fired stations in America spewing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. He negated the efforts of scores of nations cutting down the greenhouse gas emission. He is in effect a saboteur and enemy of the people.

Only a few days ago, he terminated all associations with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the egregious claim that WHO collaborated with China on the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost all the nations on earth wanted to go through the raging pandemic now and control it and then carryout an investigation on WHO activities, but this president would have none of it and throw the spanner into the ring.

Altogether, this is the man who is damaging not only the earth and humanity immeasurably, but also America itself inexorably. This man came to power with the banner proclaiming “America first, America first”. At the end of his term of presidency at the end of this year, America may well find itself to be the nation which had been most severely damaged economically, socially and politically more than any other nation by this man. This man is on record of brandishing Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” and calling Muslims the terrorists. All of these character traits show the true colour of this vile narcissistic racist xenophobic megalomaniac president.

–             Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, Human Rights, Life as it is, Political

Rank Hypocrisy

There may be occasions when mild hypocrisy is cloaked up in nice words or even sweet lies to make it acceptable or tolerable to the recipient. Any discerning recipient may not be elated by it, but he may tolerate it giving the benefit of doubt or by the generosity of his amiable mind.

But then there are occasions when rank hypocrisy is dished out totally arrogantly or combatively with no intention of making it amicable or acceptable. This is one of those moments with regard to Dominic Cummings action in going all the way from Downing Street, London to an isolated firm in County Durham on the totally unfounded presumption that his wife may be ill with coronavirus or he may be ill with coronavirus or his four-year old child may be ill. Nobody had been ill with anything; Cummings’ ‘may be ill’ are all made up and this narrative makes a good alibi.  

It should be realised that he is not the only parent in the whole country with a child. There are millions of parents with children at various ages in much more difficult situations. There are families in financial hardship, close family members hospitalised or passed away etc – and they all needed to go to some other place. But they adhered to the exhortations of the government to “stay at home, save NHS, save life”! If they would have realised that government advice was just a good counsel with lots of allowable exceptions, getaways, loopholes, ifs and buts etc, then people would have acted entirely differently.

Cummings then said that he made a detour of over 30 miles ‘to test if his eyesight is OK!’ to drive to London. The question is, couldn’t his wife drive if he had lost his sight entirely in that fictitious illness? Why does he need to drive 30 miles to a beauty spot on the other side of his route to London? His eyesight was obviously alright to allow him to drive to London. Now, how often does he take such ‘eye-tests’ each day during the lockdown period while living in London to allow him to work?

But the most telling and provocative mind-set came out when he said, “I don’t care what people think” about this action (of going to Durham during the lockdown period). This is the height of arrogance, revolting arrogance. People have made enormous sacrifices, endured tremendous hardships all in the good faith of ‘we are all in it together’. But then this guy, who created the slogans of ‘stay at home, save NHS, save life’, is showing two fingers to the common people, went off to have a good break in the seclusion of a farm house, all on the false pretence of ‘may be ill’.

It is the most arrogant way of saying, there is one rule for the powerful and another rule for the vassals and plebs. The powerful effectively is saying, “Do what I say, not what I do”. This is perfect recipe for social breakdown.  

If Cummings’ action is justified, as Johnson is saying, that Cummings acted for the best interests of his child giving him safety and security (which the child did not need as after 14 days holiday, they all came back to London refreshed), then if a man loses his job, would he be justified to rob a bank as he needs to give his child food and shelter? Would a man be justified to snatch medicines from a pharmacy to give to his sick children or parents? Anarchy is the recipe the present prime minister is advocating.

Boris Johnson justified Cummings’ action, which is not surprising. It may be called ‘criminal fraternity’. Boris Johnson justified his own actions of lies and deceits in the EU referendum to snatch his victory. He and his advisor, Dominic Cummings, had always had very lose connection with truth, honesty, decency and fairness. In fact, they have no connections at all. This is going to cause enormous long-lasting damage to the very fabric of this society, which had inculcated these virtues over the centuries. 

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Cultural, International, Life as it is, Literary, Political, Religious, Technical

The Illusion of Reality

The reality is considered to be the state of a thing or situation, not a notional idea or perception, that is unambiguous or obvious at a specific space and time. The state of reality is vivid, transparent and beyond dispute. A ‘real’ thing is there, right in front of the eyes of the viewer to observe with full consciousness. But, is reality as ‘real’ as it is claimed to be? Is there no illusion in viewing or observing something that is ‘real’?

Nearly a century ago (1930 to be precise), Tagore, ‘the poet with the head of a scientist’, and Einstein, ‘the scientist with the head of a poet’, debated (and some would say, clashed) on the nature of reality at Einstein’s home outside Berlin. Einstein held the notion of reality that was vivid, transparent, visible, sort of ‘moon was there, whether one looked at it or not’, ‘a beauty was there, whether one observed it or not’. Reality arises from physical presence that cannot be denied or disputed.

On the other hand, Tagore held the view that reality of all physical objects, truth, beauty and so forth was dependent on human consciousness. Without human consciousness, the reality of anything was incoherent and irrelevant. He maintained that this world was a human world – the scientific view of it was also that of a scientific man. Therefore, the world apart from us does not exist, it is a subjective world, depending for its reality upon our consciousness.

Reality is not always ‘real’ as we view it; it can deceive our perception, our senses and consciousness or sense of reality may be partial or incomplete. Let us look at the Figure given below. The light from a distant star can be bent by the gravitational field of the Sun before it reaches us and then we view the position of the star at its ‘apparent position’. Of course, with scientific investigation, taking other parameters into consideration, the ‘real’ position of the star can be accurately determined. But to a common man, the ‘apparent position’ is the ‘real’ position of the star, he can point it out in the sky with his own fingers and that is the reality for him!

The moon is the nearest celestial body from earth. Even then, what we see or do not see of the moon may not be the real thing. For example, we may not see the moon due to cloud cover, but that does not mean the moon is not there in the sky. In Islam, religious events are fixed by the sight of the moon and the lack of sight of moon does not mean that the moon is not there in reality. That illusion of absence is taken as a substitute for reality. The light we get from our nearest star, beyond sun, comes to us four years after it had been emitted. In other words, our reality is four years behind the present time. We can get light or radiation from a star or a galaxy some 100 million or 200 million or 1000 million light years from us and during that time that star or galaxy may have died or disappeared. So, our reality of the existence of that star could be totally out of place.

The nearer an object is from us, the more accurate is our perception of the reality of that object. However, on the miniscule scale of atomic and sub-atomic realm, i.e. quantum field, our reality takes another knock. In there, particles like electrons, quarks etc take on dual role of particles and waves – which one at which point no one knows. An electron whizzes around the nucleus of an atom as waves, but when an energy is given to it or taken away from it, it behaves like a particle. Only the act of observation can determine the true nature or the reality of the electron. In quantum mechanics, it is axiomatic that only in the act of measurement does an electron become real. An unobserved electron is unreal (Copenhagen interpretation).  

However, an observed electron does not behave exactly the same way in various circumstances. A concrete example is the double slit experiment when electrons are fired one at a time and interference pattern is observed on the screen due to wave nature of electrons. Now, if a detector is placed to detect which slit the electron is going through, the interference pattern disappears. If the detector is then switched off, leaving all other arrangements intact, the interference pattern reappears. It is, as if, the electron does not like to be detected which way it is going. In other words, the act of observation modifies the outcome. Thus, the act of observation in this instance does not give the reality; rather the very act of observation changes the outcome of the reality.

The view of reality in the cosmological scale may be somewhat misplaced, as objects may not be exactly where they apparently appear to be. Also, in the ultra-small sub-atomic fields, objects cannot be assigned any particular positions based on physical principles. Only an act of observation may offer the object a specific position and that may be construed as the reality. But strangely that act of observation may change the otherwise reality!

Over the centuries and millennia, people had been narrating different ‘real’ stories. Moses, the prophet of Judaism, saw a bush-fire in the corn field right in front of his eyes and when he went nearer, that bush-fire disappeared, he saw nothing was burnt and received the God’s command not to approach it any further. To him, the event was vivid and real (although we now know that he witnessed a mirage). To George W Bush, the command from God to invade Iraq was real (unless he made it up). To millions of fanatic religious people, the existence of God or Allah or Yahweh is absolute and real; heaven and hell are real! It is the state of their mind that dictates reality.

Thus, there does not seem to be a universal notion or narrative of a reality that is true to everyone at every occasion. Reality seems to be subjective, depending on individual’s state of mind or consciousness, as Tagore had asserted. What is real, vivid and utterly true to someone may be totally unrealistic, utterly non-sensical to another person with a different state. Reality can thus be an illusory notion.      

Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.