The Lust for Personal Power without Popular Support Is Not a Winning Strategy Forever

Amersfoort, Netherlands     In these days, perhaps in all days, when autocracy, as a strategy and set of tactics, seems so attractive to so many politicians and wannabe royals in their lust for power under any terms, there’s some small comfort in seeing such techniques come to wreck and ruin, even if the damage in the meantime is inestimable.

Poor Carrie Lam, the mayor of Hong Kong, is a fair example.  After almost thirteen weeks of escalating protests by pro-democracy adherents both in the streets and behind doors against her Beijing-concocted policy to extradite people to mainland China and its questionable judicial system, she was once again forced to withdraw the extradition proposal.  Of course, having refused to negotiate for weeks while protests went unabated, she has no credibility now, since even conceding seems unilateral, rather than part of a corrective process.  Protests are likely to continue.  Here is the irony.  Reportedly, Lam has been trying to resign in the face of her own impotence before the protests, but has said to associates that Beijing will not allow it.  They have not reported that Beijing told her, you make your bed, you sleep in it, but it’s possible.

Then there’s the tragic case of Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar or Burma, as some still know it, who has gone from the Noble prize-winning ranks to Mandela, King and others to become the stone faced and silent apologist for genocide among the Rohingya people of her country who practice Islam, rather than Buddhism.  Once jailed and quarantined by the country’s military rulers, she has now become their face, rather than their critic, in the midst of unspeakable horrors and the displacement of almost a half-million people.  Is this the price of power?

Globally, British television is more known for its dark crime procedurals than the humor of its comedic farces, which seem tailored more to a local taste, but now we all can witness in real time that the British origin of “House of Cards” is also more likely farcical, than fictional, as we watch the ruthlessness of Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit, once seen as clown, now made the fool.  First, in pure Kevin Spacey fashion, he undermines Theresa May, not that any would really care, but he does so, as she did, heedless to the peril of Great Britain.  Then once he has the Prime Minister’s position, he suspends Parliament creating a constitutional crisis so he can try to ram through Brexit, the withdrawal from the European Union, without debate by running out the clock.  The opposition and some renegades from his own party, vote him down easily, since in his antics he seems to have forgotten that he had only had a one-seat majority.  He then ruthlessly throws twenty-eight nay voters out of his party to try and force an election.  But, like Mayor Lam, having no credibility, there’s no agreement to a snap election without forcing a vote to extend the Brexit deadline.

I flipped channels before collapsing in the Netherlands and got to watch one commentator after another excoriate Johnson in English, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch.  The message was unmistakable in all languages.

How is bypassing the people in your lust for power working out for any politicians today?  Maybe possible in the short run, but perhaps not for long, giving all of us hope still.


India’s Anti-Muslim Detention Camps

People stand in line to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens in Assam

New Orleans       In the wake of anti-immigrant nativist policies, shooting massacres, and blatant racism, it is easy to think that it couldn’t be worse.  Certainly, on the immigrant front, we have hit a nadir that the country may not have seen since the days of the “yellow peril” and anti-immigrant policies to restrict Asian in-migration.

Tragically, it can be worse.  We saw this in Myanmar with the brutal suppression and genocide of the Rohingya whose biggest crime seems to have been their Muslim faith.  We are now also seeing this in India, another American ally, allowed to trumpet its claims as the largest democracy on earth, while allowing a communalist, rightwing Hindu-only nationalism become the dominating political program behind the BJP and Prime Minister Modi’s government.  The headlines most recently revolved around withdrawing the special status of Kashmir, one of two majority Muslim states in India.  A lesser known horror is taking place in the state of Assam, bordering Bangladesh.

Since 2016, Assam, also governed by the BJP, has been compiling a dangerous list, called the National Register of Citizens (NRC).  The NRC claimed to be a way to identify illegal intruders migrating from Bangladesh, but instead has become a Kafkaesque, Catch-22 list of four million of the state’s thirty-three million residents who are now forced to prove that they are citizens.  More than 1000 people are currently being held in six detention centers and another ten are being built as the program expands.

The suspected foreigners are required to prove that they or their forebearers have lived in the state since March 1971.  Some 3.7 million have already challenged this designation, but the process involves appearing before a Foreigners Tribunal, where there is no right to appeal or receive any review.  Cases have already emerged where members of the same family were declared both citizens and foreigners.  An Indian war hero was listed.  A young high school graduate, according to The Economist, was listed although no one else in her family was and then was unable to resolve it, because the bureaucracy required her to prove her citizenship through her voting record without reconciling the fact that she was too young to even register to vote yet.

As bad as all of this is, it gets worse.  Anyone can anonymously file an “objection” letter demanding the removal of suspected foreigners.  They never even need appear in court to face their accused.  Groups gained access to the NRC list and filed 220,000 letters before a late spring deadline.

The national government is touting the Assam anti-Muslim efforts as a model and announcing its interest in expanding the program nationally to deal with the 14% of its more than one-billion population who are Muslim.  Lest there be any doubts about the Hindu-chauvinism here, a national law has been drafted that would allow any on the list to recover citizenship or become citizens if they are Hindu, Christian, Zoroastrian, or in fact belonging to any religion other than Islam.

The United States is silent in the face of this outrage of human rights.  Perhaps that is because so many of our policies against migrants, immigrants, and Muslims are trying to travel this same road without being as clear about it as the Modi and the BJP have been?

This detention camp is located inside Assam’s central prison