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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 12th, 2007 - 01:27:00

Eight annas
By Iftekhar Sayeed
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 12, 2007, 01:25

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What I am about to relate actually happened -- it is not a work of fiction. Nevertheless, as the reader will soon judge, it is bizarre enough to pass for an Edgar Allen Poe story. And the circumstances of the narrative are not peculiar to the situation it describes. That situation can be generalised to take most of us into account -- to include most of us under the generic title �Local Englishman or Englishwoman� (or, more likely these days, �Local American�).

The gentleman in question is years older than me. My wife and I visited him one evening to see how he was doing after such a lapse of time, for I once had had strong affection for him. I almost wish I hadn�t made the trip.

We exchanged pleasantries and inquired about each other�s families. His sons were settled in the United States (whose son isn�t, these days?).

He asked us if we would like anything to eat -- or perhaps just a cup of tea? We politely declined.

�We dine early, you see,� he explained. �After all, I am a sahiblog, you know.�

I was tempted to exchange a glance with my wife. There wasn�t a drop of English blood in this man�s veins, yet he proudly proclaimed himself a sahiblog just because he had gone to university in England ages ago.

The desire to identify with the British runs very strong here. Two hundred years of British rule have sapped us of all vestige of self-respect.

The gentleman then went on to ask us if we had children: we don�t. Then -- and not at all to our surprise -- he went on to lecture us on why we should have children.

"Bringing up children can be a great source of pleasure," he proclaimed.

Now, a sahiblog was delving into our most intimate concerns without a moment�s hesitation. This is part of our culture: we have no idea of the �private life� for one thing, and secondly, not having children is regarded as an extreme form of deviance. I don�t mind my culture: I accept it. What I could not accept was this sahiblog behaving completely like a native. He was neither one of us, nor one of them.

The conversation inevitably came down to the deteriorating law and order situation. I was blunt: our transition to democracy from military rule was responsible. In this, of course, I was echoing the experience of our -- that is, Muslim -- civilisation. We have always been ruled by military rulers. Even slaves -- the word �Mamluk� means slave -- had been rulers in the Muslim world when they had had sufficient military power to do so. Qutb-ud-Din Aybak had been a slave ruler; the Delhi Dynasty had been a dynasty of slaves. How different from Greek and Roman Republican slavery, where a slave was regarded as hardly human.

�Of course not!� was the inevitable response.

I mentioned the number of student leaders murdering each other. His claim was that they had been murdered by the military authorities as well. This was pure fiction and we both knew it. In Calcutta, student leaders were picked up from inside the mosquito net, taken in vans outside the city and then released. When they ran, they were shot in the back. A former student of the Presidency College -- now the head of a branch of a multinational firm -- told me, my wife and a friend in a city restaurant over a Chinese meal: �Around 40 of my classmates are still missing.� We listened in chilled silence.

The Chinese meal, however, makes me smile now: the same thing was done in China -- the Tiananmen incident -- but in broad daylight. No autocracy can beat a democracy for sheer lies. In Greece, they used to call lies �rhetoric.�

If what had happened in Calcutta had happened here under military rule, the student movement would have been finished. The students would not have been used by men like him to topple the president. And for what? So that men like him could please the donors, and feed at the trough of the freedom industry.

I changed the subject. At the time, I was reading Norman Finkeslstein�s bestseller The Holocaust Industry. (How much like the Freedom Industry is the Holocaust Industry -- they both exploit events and ideas, and generate a continuous cascade of lies.) He knew all about the Holocaust Industry, of course -- these people are in the know; they merely twist the truth to serve their own financial needs. It can�t be cheap paying for two boys� tuition in the United States. And a flat in Gulshan, too, doesn�t come easy.

Then he told me a personal narrative.

�When I was in London,� was one of his favourite beginnings. Readers must have noticed this among those who were in the West.

�When I was in New York. . . ."

�When I was in Chicago. . . ."

�When I was in LA. . . ."

�When I was in Paris. . . ."

Anyway, he began with: ��When I was in London. . . .". And proceeded thus: �I knew an Israeli couple -- they were my neighbours. One evening, the Palestinians came up in our conversation.

�They said, 'Palestinians are animals.��

He lowered his voice and, very mildly, said: �I don�t think so. . . ."

When you are in London, you have to be mild about this sort of thing. If you aren�t mild, you are likely to be branded a Palestinian sympathiser, an anti-Semite and an Arab barbarian -- and there goes your career. Take Norman Finkelstein's career: he has been denied tenure at DePaul University because of external pressure. He says: "The only inference that I can draw is that I was denied tenure due to external pressures climaxing in a national hysteria that tainted the tenure process. The outpouring of support for me after the tenure denial from among the most respected scholars in the world buttresses this conclusion. (Joint Statement Of Norman Finkelstein And DePaul University)."

��O no, they are,� said the girl. �The Arabs are animals.��

Now, the gentleman is a Muslim. He is a breed I call Muslim-Americans. These hybrids or mules are willing to sacrifice their fellow Muslims for the sake of cash and career. For instance, never in the history of Bangladesh has anybody stood up in a public symposium to express sympathy, let alone solidarity, with the Palestinians. I have this on the authority of the Palestinian embassy in Bangladesh. If Finkelstein's career can be stunted by "external pressures," then a Muslim, Bangladeshi intellectual like the sahiblog before me would do well to keep his sympathies for Palestinians under wraps -- if he values his career in the West (as they all do). The horde of local PhDs that descends like locusts from the USA are a formidable army that keeps Bangladesh well within the American Empire.

This learned gentleman knew perfectly well that the two democracies of France and Britain had set up the Israelis in Palestine and made refugees of Palestinians. Then the democracy of America took up the Zionist cause and has recently killed a half-million Iraqi children through sanctions for that purpose -- to name only one act of genocide. Anyone -- especially a Muslim -- would have seen through the democratic lies and seen these democracies for what in fact they and the system are: a network of dangerous mendacity.

The Palestinians are treated like slaves -- and in Greece and America slaves were not human. I have already observed how even slaves were rulers in the Muslim world. In fact, in the Muslim world there is no black diaspora as there is in the United States. (Around 11.5 million slaves were imported from Africa into the Arab world over 1,300 years; compare that to the figure of over 15 million blacks -- 20 percent of whom died en route - transported to the western hemisphere over 400 years: the former was a trickle of 9,000, the latter a flood of 37,500, per year.) Marrying slaves was encouraged, and one thousand three hundred years of miscegenation obliterated the Arab-Negro distinction. In the democracies, racism is rampant (it was fortunate for our sahiblog that his complexion was fair). In a democracy, �rights� are for citizens -- the rest of the world are barbarians, animals, �lesser breeds.� The Muslim world considers others as equally human -- precisely because a citizen has no rights. Despotism is benign.

I recalled that the pejorative term for Eurasians -- Anglo-Indians as we would say today -- was �eight annas� (that is, half the currency unit which was equal to 'sixteen annas,' a standard of purity in the language.). The expression was -- and is -- rebarbative. Yet, however repellent its original use, at the moment, for the person before me, I could think of nothing more apt. Even though we have adopted the decimal system, the expression should be taken out of cold storage, defrosted and served up, nice and hot, for his kind. Though for entirely different reasons, there�s only one description for them.

Eight annas.

Iftekhar Sayeed was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he currently resides. He teaches English as well as economics. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in Postcolonial Text (on-line); Altar Magazine, Online Journal, Left Curve (2004,2005) and The Whirligig in the United States; in Britain: Mouseion, Erbacce, The Journal, Poetry Monthly, Envoi, Orbis, Acumen and Panurge; and in Asiaweek in Hong Kong; Chandrabhaga and the Journal OF Indian Writing in English in India; and Himal in Nepal. He is also a freelance journalist. He and his wife love to tour Bangladesh.

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