Playing the Indian Card

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Tragic Plight of Afghan Women

A regular correspondent forwards the following topical gag:

.........A point of view.

Barbara Walters, of Television's 20/20, did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan, several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that women customarily walked five paces behind their husbands.

She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms. Walters' vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further back behind their husbands, and are happy to maintain the old custom.

Ms.Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked, "Why do you now seem happy with an old custom that you once tried so desperately to change? The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes, and without hesitation said, "LAND MINES."

Unfortunately, the story fails as humour on a fundamental level. Humour works by a reversal of expectations: the punch line must be unexpected, or it is not funny.

But this is exactly why women have walked behind men in all violent countries, from the beginning of time. This is exactly where the custom came from: the man walked in front to protect the woman from attack. This is no doubt also why the man traditionally walks on the outside in North America and Northern Europe: so that, if a carriage veers from the road, or disturbs a mud puddle, or, in older days, an open sewer, or if someone dumps offal from an upper balcony, his body protects hers from harm.

It is, of course, the same reason that, when you have an official procession, the VIP, king, or president, appears at the rear, not at the front. It takes a certain perverse procrusteanism to interpret this as anything but the place of honour.

Nor is there the slightest evidence that Afghan women ever wanted to end the traditional customs of their country. That was always a demand of Western feminists, maternalistically thinking they knew better than native 'savages' what was best for the latter—albeit they might have been joined in this at times by the tiny minority of Western- or Soviet-educated Afghanis.

The same ethnocentrism is shown in the present gag in the reference to the time “before the Afghan conflict.” The author seems to think there was no fighting in Afghanistan until NATO showed up. For an Afghanistan without land mines, you would probably have to go back to 1973—almost before feminism became well known in the West, let alone Afghanistan.

No doubt, if and when Afghanistan becomes a much safer country, women will indeed walk closer to their husbands.

But I hardly think this is the most important breakthrough Afghanis could look forward to.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The British Empire: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

A little while ago on this blog, I was admitting nostalgia for the British Empire.

You know, I might have been premature. The British Empire has been counted out before—when those troublesome American colonists insisted on going it alone. Is it possible we could have a third empire?

Here's why we might: because it is in India's best interests. Given demographics and economic trends, in a few decades, ot looks as though there will be two great powers in the world: India and China. But India's great advantage over China might be this: while China has tended to go it alone, India has an international network of friends. China is scrambling now to make friends in order to secure markets, on the one hand, and raw materials, on the other. But India already has all that, in the Commonwealth. India may want to play up this advantage.

The difference between the present Commonwealth and a new Empire, I posit, would be two things at a minimum: a free trade agreement, and a mutual defence pact.

For many of the former bits of the British Empire, it still makes sense to work together on this basis. India gets it markets and raw materials, just as British manufacturing did a century ago. Canada gets an advantage over its partners in NAFTA: it becomes the portal for Empire businesses seeking access to North America, and for North American businesses seeking access to the Empire. Britain gains the same advantage vis a vis Europe. Myanmar, Malaysia, and Singapore, if they joined, would gain the same advantage within ASEAN. India would automatically gain a free trade area covering all of South Asia: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar. Australia gets a counterbalance to the inevitable pull of China, and a security guarantee.

The Gulf States—Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman—can supply the union with valuable oil and valuable investment capital. It return, they get the right to invest freely, and, crucially, defense guarantees. Being rich, tiny, and in a rough neighbourhood, they can use the same protections that brought them into the British Empire to begin with.

A reconstituted Empire would also, not incidentally, control many of the major sea trade routes—this was most of the point of the Empire for the British in the first place. This would be valuable to India and to the oil nations in securing the flow of trade. And it is a real consideration—we again see piracy in the Malacca Straits and at the mouth of the Red Sea, since the British left.

African nations would probably want in, for the sake of foreign aid—as it is, Mozambique has chosen to join the Commonwealth despite a lack or historic ties to Britain. The small English-speaking nations of the Caribbean would certainly want in. The only question is whether the rest of the federation would be interested.

They might. A generation or two ago, the rich nations feared the integration of the Empire because of a possible mass influx of poor from the less-developed nations. Now, with the developed world facing demographic crisis, this might actually be an advantage. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, and the Gulf nations could probably soon use the immigration flow.

What's in it not to love? It makes more sense than the European Union, or NAFTA--the members complement each other better.

Of course, the British would not be able to dominate this empire as they did the last two. This time, it would be the Indians—though those troublesome American colonists, if we let them back in, might act as something of a counterbalance.

Friday, March 06, 2009

No Canadians Need Apply

This made me laugh.

Canadians have an invincible belief that everybody loves them.

This alone makes them insufferable in international gatherings.