Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why Faculty Should Join Occupy Movement Protesters on College Campuses

Monday 19 December 2011
by Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed

Source: Here

In both the United States and  many other countries, students are protesting against rising tuition fees, the increasing financial burdens they are forced to assume, and the primacy of market models in shaping higher education while emphasizing private benefits to individuals and the economy. Many students view these policies and for-profit industries as part of an assault on not just the public character of the university but also as an attack on civic society and their future. 

For many young people in the Occupy movement, higher education has defaulted on its promise to provide them with both a quality education and the prospects of a dignified future. They resent the growing instrumentalization and accompanying hostility to critical and oppositional ideas within the university. They have watched over the years as the university is losing ground as a place to think, dissent, and develop a culture of questioning, dialogue, and civic enlightenment. They are rethinking what should be the role of the university in a world caught in a nightmarish blend of war, massive economic inequities and ecological destruction.

What role should the university play at a time when politics is being emptied out of any connection to a civic literacy, informed judgment, and critical dialogue, further deepening a culture of illiteracy, cruelty, hypermasculinity and disposability? Young people are not only engaging in a great refusal; they are also arguing for the social benefits and public value of higher education while deeply resenting the fact that, as conservative politicians defund higher education and cut public spending, they do so in order to be able to support tax breaks for corporations and the rich and to ensure ample funds for sustaining and expanding the warfare state.

The Occupy protesters view the assault on the programs that emerged out of the New Deal and the Great Society as being undermined as society increasingly returns to a Second Gilded Age, in which youth have to bear the burden of an attack on the welfare state, social provisions, and a huge wealth and income inequality gap. Young people recognize that they have become disposable, and that higher education, which always embodied the ideal, though in damaging terms, of a better life, has now become annexed to the military-academic-industrial complex. 

What is important about the Occupy protesters' criticism of being saddled with onerous debt, viewed as a suspect generation, subjected to the demands of an audit culture that confuses training with critical education and their growing exclusion from higher education is that such concerns situate the attack on higher education as part of a broader criticism against the withering away of the public realm, public values and any viable notion of the public good. To paraphrase William Greider, they have come to recognize in collective fashion that higher education has increasingly come to resemble "an ecological dead zone" where social relevance and engaged scholarship perishes in a polluted, commercial, market-driven environment. The notion of the university as a center of critique and a vital democratic public sphere that cultivates the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for the production of a democratic polity is giving way to a view of the university as a marketing machine essential to the production of identities in which the only obligation of citizenship is to be a consumer.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters reject the propaganda they have been relentlessly fed by a market-driven culture: the notion that markets should take priority over governments, that market values are the best means for ordering society and satisfying human needs, that material interests are more important than social needs, and that self-interest is the driving force of freedom and the organizing principle of society. The Occupy Wall Street protests refuse a notion of society that embraces a definition of agency in which people are viewed only as commodities, bound together in a Darwinian nightmare that celebrates the logic of greed, unchecked individualism and a disdain for democratic values. The old idea of democracy in which the few govern the many through the power of capital and ritualized elections is being replaced with a new understanding of democracy and politics, in which power and resources are shared and economic justice and democratic values work in the interest of social responsibility and the common good. This radical notion of democracy is in the making, unfinished, and open to connecting people, power, resources and knowledge. And this turn toward a radical understanding of connecting the particular to the general is particularly true of their view of higher education. What the Occupy protesters recognize, as the British educator Simon Dawes points out, is that, "'the public university' can be read as shorthand for 'not-neoliberal university,' where neoliberal means more than private funding; it means 'not good for democracy.'"

All over the country, Occupy movement protesters are setting up camps on college campuses. Not only are they protesting the ways in which universities now resemble corporations treating faculty as a subaltern class of casualized labor and defining students largely as customers and clients; they have also recognized that banks and loan corporations, with their army of lobbyists, have declared war on students, killing any legislation that would reduce the cost of schooling, stifling any legislation that would make it affordable for all working- and middle-class students. 

They are also raising serious questions about academics. Where are they when it comes to protesting the corporatization and militarization of higher education? Why are so many of them complicit with the ideologies and money now used by corporations and the national security state to promote the interest of finance capital and agencies such as the CIA, Defense Department, Pentagon and other apparatuses of the national security state intent on recruiting students to produce militarized knowledge and create new and ever more sophisticated surveillance systems and weapons of mass destruction? Why do so many academics cling to a notion of disinterested and objective scholarship and publish and make a claim to pedagogy that allegedly decries any relationship to politics, power or interest in larger social issues? What Occupy movement protesters have recognized is that for all intents and purposes, too many academics who make a claim to objectivity, and, in some cases, reject the presence of the military-industrial-academic complex on campus, have become irrelevant to offering any viable defense of the university as a democratic public sphere, or, for that matter, even defending to a broader public the very conditions that make their work possible. 
One important question that arises from the Occupy movement's migration to college campuses is, what can academics learn from these young people? One of the things they might learn is that critical and important forms of education and dialogue are taking place outside of the university, in which issues are being talked about that are often ignored within the halls, disciplines and classrooms in many universities. Many universities have lost touch with bridging the production of knowledge, research and teaching with the myriad urgent social issues now facing the larger society, including crushing poverty, environmental degradation, racism, the suspension of civil liberties, the colonization of the media by corporations, the rise of the punishing state, religious fanaticism, the corruption of politics by big money and other concerns. 

Since the 1980s, higher education has been increasingly corporatized and militarized and subject to market-driven values and managerial relations that treat faculty and students as entrepreneurs and clients, while reducing knowledge to the dictates of an audit culture, and pedagogy to a destructive and reductive instrumental rationality. It is hoped that academics might both learn about and be inspired by the current attempt on the part of students to change the conversation about the meaning and purpose of higher education. Hopefully, they might be moved and educated by the attempt on the part of many young people today to reclaim higher education as a democratic public sphere, one that not only provides work skills, but also offers a formative culture that prepares students to be critical and active agents in shaping the myriad of economic, social and political forces that govern their lives.
Students are rejecting a model of education based on narrow forms of measurable utility, capital accumulation, and cost-efficient asset and power-stripping measures; they are rejecting a market-driven model of education that reduces 70 percent of faculty to a subaltern class of part time workers and treats students as customers and commodities, offering them overcrowded classrooms, skyrocketing tuition rates and modes of learning that have little to do with enabling them to translate personal troubles into social problems. Universities increasingly have come to resemble malls. Rather than offer students an education in which they can become critical individual and social agents who believe that they have the power to change things, they are largely reduced to passive consumers entertained by the spectacles of big sports, celebrity culture and the lure of utterly privatized desires. 

In many ways, students are offering faculty the possibility of becoming part of a larger conversation, if not a social movement, one that addresses what the role of the university might be in relation to public life in the 21st century. Central to such an inquiry is examining how higher education has been caught in the grip of larger economic and political forces that undermine the social state, social provisions and democracy itself. The Occupy protesters are arguing that while they might support a limited notion of a market economy, they do not want to live in a market society, a society in which market values become a template for organizing all aspects of social life. They have learned the hard way that beneath this market fundamentalism resides a mode of education and a set of values that contain a secret order of politics that is destructive of democratic social relations, democratic modes of equality and civic education itself. 

Young people can make clear to faculty that, over the last 30 years, they have been written out of the social contract and are no longer viewed as a symbol of hope, just as they have been written out of the power relations that govern the university. No longer regarded as an important social investment or as a marker for the state of democracy and the moral life of the nation, young people have become the objects of a more direct and damaging assault waged on them on a number of political economic and cultural fronts. They have been deprived of decent scholarships, disrespected in their attempts to gain a quality education, foiled in their attempts to secure a decent job, and denied a voice in the shaping of the institutions that bear down heavily on their daily lives. 

Big banks and large financial institutions view them as a drain on the nation's financial coffers and as a liability in making quick financial profits through short-term investments. Young people are now challenging this toxic form of casino capitalism and, in doing so, are changing the national conversation that has focused on deficit reduction and taxing the poor. They are shifting this conversation to important issues, which range from poverty and joblessness to corporate corruption. Put differently, the Occupy protesters are asking big questions, and they are not simply being moralistic. They are also demanding an alternative vision and set of policies to drive American society. 

Faculty need to listen to young people in order to try to understand the problems they face and how, as academics, they might be unknowingly complicit in reproducing such problems. They also need to begin a conversation with young people and among other faculty about how they can become a force for democratic change.

Young people need a space on campuses to talk back, talk to one another, engage in respectful dialogue with faculty and learn how to engage in coalition building. Faculty and administrators can begin to open up the possibility for such spaces by offering the Occupy protesters an opportunity to speak to their classes, create autonomous spaces within the university where they might meet and engage in dialogue with others. They can go even further by joining them in fighting those economic and political forces that are destroying higher education as a social good and as a citadel of rigorous intellectual engagement and civic debate. 

Young people no longer recognize themselves in terms preferred by the market, and they no longer believe in an education that ignores critical thinking, dialogue, and those values that engage matters of social responsibility and civic engagement.  But students have more to offer than a serious critique of the university and its complicity with a number of antidemocratic forces now shaping the larger society. They are also modeling for faculty new modes of participatory democracy, and exhibiting forms of pedagogy and education that connect learning with social change and knowledge with more democratic modes of self-development and social empowerment. Clearly, academics have a lot to learn from both the ways in which students are changing the conversation about education, important social issues, and democracy, and from what it might mean to imagine a new understanding of politics and a different future.

All of these issues are especially true for those faculty members that believe that scholarship should be disinterested and removed from addressing important social issues. The questions students are raising are important for faculty to rethink those modes of professionalism, specialism and social relations which have cut them off from addressing important social issues and the larger society. Professionalism does not have to translate into a flight from moral and intellectual responsibility.

Faculty can also put pressure on their unions to support the Occupy movement, provide them with financial and media resources, and join with them in pushing for educational and political reforms. The Occupy protesters are surely right in arguing that higher education is a vital public sphere that should be at the forefront in addressing important political, economic and social issues. Faculty should combine their scholarly rigor and knowledge to bridge the gap between the university and everyday life - not to benefit corporate interests or the warfare state, but to benefit existing and future generations of young people who hold the key to whether democracy will survive the current moment in American history.

Too many academics for too long have turned their backs on addressing important social issues, on joining with young people to fight with them for a better future and using their knowledge and skills to convince a wider public that higher education is crucial for not only students, but for the common good and the entire society. Joining with students in the Occupy movement is not merely a career choice; it is a choice about what kind of society we all want to live in, and how the urgency of that question at the current historical moment demands that academics take that question seriously and act as quickly as possible, with passion and conviction.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For a new political imagination

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma  

(Published in Daily Post 20 December 2011)

The only political rally I went to as a child has not faded from my memory. Those were the days after the Emergency. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was coming to address the people in Kanak Mandi, the market square of Hoshiarpur. The whole town seemed to have poured out to hear him. I trailed my father to have a glimpse of the country's best known orator.
I vaguely recall the big crowd, its sheer enthusiasm and the great distance between me and the stage. And I have not forgotten a studiedly casual remark Vajpayee made before an all-male audience, which elicited all round applause and laughter. "Look at poor me, Indiraji will say, a woman, hounded by all those men!" Time may have altered the syntax, but the content of the remark remains imprinted in my memory like an unforgettable photograph. I did not then know that it was a sexist remark. Nor did I know it had been made in bad taste.
            Political rallies have undergone a sea change over the years. Sexism finds cruder expressions, what with lecherous songs and lusty dances often arranged to keep the herded audiences confined to their pens. People hardly, if at all, come; they are 'arranged' and transported. The rallies are supposed to show not that vast numbers support you but your ability to manage numbers. Manipulation, not mobilization, is the name of the game. And the players know it. Yet they play it because they know that in the politics of the spectacle, appearances matter. If you can arrange a more formidable spectacle than your competitors, your opponents in and outside the party will feel weak in the knees. And the impression of impending victory will bring the weak and wavering to your side with the expectation of rewards, even if these are no more than their humblest rights restored with the nod of the mighty 'elected' to rule.
            This is part of what has come to be termed as democracy by management. Its inkiest chapters are authored on the eve and the occasion of polling when the 'management' of democracy completely overtakes democratic mobilization. Liquor and cash flow free, and so do the fist, the danda and the gun.
            But will this continue for long? If the post-independence romance with democracy has died, the cynicism too is not really thriving. Beyond romance and cynicism, people have begun to see through the game. They have begun to see how the management of democracy operates, and they are not happy. But they no longer merely indulge their unhappiness in private political gossip. Many among the relatively younger voters – right across the rural-urban divide – understand that one way to save democracy against its 'management' is to swell the numbers of the unmanageable. And those numbers are, surely, swelling, given the spread of literacy and education which the current socio-economic changes necessarily entail.   
            If the political leadership today is not so illiterate as to be unable to read the writing on the wall, it must think beyond mere 'management'. From the Tahrir Square to the Wall Street to the Ram Lila Maidan, the message is splashed in loud and colourful graffiti. And the message is: WANTED A NEW POLITICAL IMAGINATION!
The leadership that cannot deliver this will wither, atrophy and expire. The future will not receive the dead, despite all the fanfare and the spectacle they may marshal on the way.
One hears now and then of some electoral candidates hiring MBAs. The use of information technology is now an old story. To some extent, the electoral bonding of politics, business management and IT indicates the marriage of 'democratic' politics and corporate business facilitated by the priesthood of IT. This is sometimes mistaken as a paradigmatic shift in politics, which this is certainly not.
A shift of paradigmatic dimensions would require, in the foreseeable future, the use of IT as both model and tool to subserve the interests of democracy. The top-down hierarchic model of command, control and communication (C3) has to give way to the network model for really effective penetration, mobilization and participation. The electoral constituency has extended beyond the anonymous masses on one hand and the groups which crystallize around caste, religion, etc. There are niche groups, newly emerged and emerging, new social formations that the new media has midwifed. If there is any lesson for political leadership in the recent worldwide protest movements, including the anti-corruption movement in India, it is in figuring out the mechanics and dynamics of popular mobilization. These movements have achieved the levels of mobilization which only the political parties used to achieve once upon a time, but they have succeeded because they are not burdened with obsolete models of doing politics. The political leadership can take a leaf from their book; it can 'outsource' imagination to bridge the dangerous gulf that is yawning ever more between the political and the so-called 'civil'. In fact, it may not be unreasonable to suggest that if a kind of battle cry was sounded between the 'political' leadership and the 'civil' society, the provocation had come from the former: it had failed to respond to the fast-changing scenario with an adequately responsive imagination.
A network model of democratic political mobilization can be an answer to the challenges thrown by political de-massification. Interconnected but operationally independent nodes and routes can meet the new demands on political enfranchisement being made by the emerging social formations – symbolized, and often realized, by virtual communities swarming the cyberspace. Time has come for micro-management of political communication and for micro-mobilization of the electorate.
Even the good old manifesto of the political party needs a modular update. The standard manifesto leaves so much unmentioned and so many voters uninspired. Why can't the parties today have online 'contribute your manifesto' interfaces, and eventually build really democratic manifestos that are multi-level, with issues organized along various levels from the local to the state and the national? If the political leadership cannot do even this much, it is surely disconnected with the present. How can it have any future?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel, 1936-2011

He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist writers.

He rejected the notion, posited by reform-minded Communist leaders like Alexander Dubcek in his own country, and years later by Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, that Communist rule could be made more humane.

In his now iconic 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” which circulated in underground editions in Czechoslovakia and was smuggled to other Warsaw Pact countries and to the West, Mr. Havel foresaw that the opposition could eventually prevail against the totalitarian state.

Source: Czechs’ Dissident Conscience, Turned President -

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just Why Did God Create Us?

By Badri Raina

Source: Znet

Duniya banAnei vAlei, kya  tere mann mei samAyei,

kAhei ko duniya banAyei?

(whatever got into your head, o creator/ why did you create the world?)

Lines from a film song that  have  comprised  absolutely my mother’s most favourite  poser.  And mine as well.

She has now entered her one hundredth year—you heard that right—and  is  tough-minded  enough to say she still does not have an answer, although her ninety nine have been full of observance and piety.

So, does she not fear death and the alleged aftermath?  I suspect she takes cognizance of those things, but refuses to attach herself to an order of  constructions that she remains unconvinced about.  Mama, I salute the integrity of your mind and  heart.

Being of a high intellectual calibre, and honest to the core, she is unable to say that watching cinema in a theatre or drinking a shot of whisky now and then  are acts guaranteed to send us to jahanum (hell).  I recall her remarking off and on how such injunctions are merely man-made, and entirely meaningless to  those that may have felt the presence of the divine.

Which reminds me.


I think the first ever movie I watched at age seven or so was in the  then Regal theatre in Srinagar, Kashmir.  The film was either  BAzAr or Jignu, and my father was as excited to be in the cinema hall as either of his two boys.  Touching and edifying story-lines and heavenly music, ah.  How noisy the world seems today.

In the city of Srinagar those days, the most heroic thing that a posse of young Kashmiris—Muslims and Pandits—set themselves to do was to buy a cinema ticket for the matinee of any new movie, even if this meant brawling with milling crowds at the  crevice of a ticketing window, or literally scaling the aspirants in a flying tackle to get to the window before anyone else.

The successful galahad received the awed acknowledgements from lesser combatants, and often the legend of that success did many rounds in galli and mohalla.

Remarkably, through our college careers—naughty times those were of a very sweetly honourable ambience—we Kashmiri young people across communities often visited the cinema without falling into   horribly bad ways.

Often, working late nights in laboratories over gravimetric experiments, we sang those   Rafi, Noor-e-Jahan, Lata  numbers  that remain with us even now, and will remain so after all the Mullahs and Pundits have  wended their holy ways to heaven.  Where else would they be going?

As to liquor, we had our stolen moments, to the accompaniment of expansive verses from the subcontinent’s renowned and beloved urdu poets.  “PilA dei okk se sAqui gar hum se nafrat hei/ PiyAla deita nahi hai na dei,, sharAb tou dei” we  would sing  (pour thou that wine into the hollow of our palms/if you have no tankard, just give us the wine).   And we sang of love as well in affected ways: “Ulti hogayein sub tadbeerein, kutch na dawA nei kAm kiya/ DekhA iss beemAriyei dil ne Akhir kAm tamAm kiya”.  (all remedies fell flat, no medicine ever worked/ the heartache in the end did us in).

Yet  no domestic or political elder seemed ever to mind, or caution us against the pain of hellfire to stay away from cinema, song, or love; as to liquor or smoke, they had the excellent good sense to know when we were about these things, and to let us find our depths or shallows. If an admonition came, it came as a honeyed word of care, never as some monster doctrine that was waiting to swallow us into satanic oblivion.  And such admonitions for that reason were often heeded and effective.


And, look, at the end of all that, we haven’t done too badly, have we?

But the onslaughts of the 1989/90 moment were set to change much of how good-natured, caring, secular Kashmiri young people lived and bonded.

The Pandits having exited the valley, barring a few thousand, the demographic field seems more and more amenable to doctrinal fiat.

The return of peace and normalcy do not seem destined to bring back those magnificent swathes of syncretic innocence that made of going to the cinema or visiting a liquor shop—of which Srinagar had many—a matter of ordinary occurrence or conjoint camaraderie.

Many who buy pirated movie CDs or DVDs from ubiquitous street shops and watch them at home, or indeed watch movies off the television screen  dime a dozen  admonish that cinema houses must remain closed, since cinema is “ un-Islamic.” Think that it never was so for as long as cinema has existed.

Same with liquor:  any number of knowledgeable Muslims have recounted to this writer how the Quranic attitude to imbibing  can clearly be seen to have evolved over time.  An earlier surah  alludes to liquor as fraught both with potential “benefit,’ especially for men, and with sin, where sin may tip the scales (Surah Baqarah, 2:219; also Surah Al’Nahal); after an interesting episode of misdemeanour that would take too long to recite here, the injunction was laid not to use liquor during prayer times: “O Believers, do not approach Salah while intoxicated” (S. Nisaa); a further episode of misdemeanour by an inebriated Ansari youth who threw a bone at Hazrat Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas out of tribal animus led to the more decisive outlawing of intoxicants (S, Maidah). It may be permissible to conclude here is that the injunction has less an ontological basis, more a revulsion against the likely loss of civility and social responsibility.     .

Think that whereas in a theocratic Pakistan, cinema houses run well and happily, and many of India’s cinematic icons draw raging adulation,  the valley of Rishis and Sufis seems set to out-Herod Herod. Think also that the Shariat Court in Pakistan ruled not too long ago (2005) that imbimbing was not tantamount to Hadd, and that it is un-islamic to punish the offence with 80 lashes.  The recommendation has been made to make the offense a bailable one.

One must thus be pardoned for asking what was the tehrik(Movement) of 1989 about after all?  Is the misgiving justified that some influential vanguards may have had more than merely the sanctity of the ballet in mind?  Or the formation of a secular state away from India?

I was all of fourteen years of age, and privileged to be included in a Kashmiri cricket team to play an exhibition   match with a posse of film stars from Bombay who had landed in Srinagar.  These included such legends as Dilip Kumar, Nargis, and many others.

Then when the match ended and the stars came walking out of the Amarsingh club grounds, poor Dilip sahib was all but swallowed by droves of college girls who had come to watch.  Unforgettable sight.  Yet no solemn Kashmiri voice, or stern newspaper editorial thought the episode sinful or “ un-Islamic.” 

How times change, or do they?

I imagine if a Shahrukh, or Salman, or Amir Khan were to visit the valley this day, and  go among the crowds, nothing much might have changed as far as ordinary Kashmiri Muslims are concerned.  Indeed, these  “fallen” cinema icons might even be graciously invited into pristine Islamic homes for food and photo ops.  And why not.

If  the  new and uncharacteristic expressions of puritan   teaching in the valley are to be believed, some of India’s greatest poets and Muslim-humanists, beginning with Mir and Ghalib, are set to be  proscribed, no?  Little wonder that the one poet who seems everywhere among the valley’s literati these days should be  Iqbal, and for reasons only tangential to his stature as a poet.

All this seems rather diminishing and sad.  And perhaps indicative of what colour azadi (secession from India)  might take if and when it transpires.


And then if Kargil, a Shia majority area of the valley, were to seek azadi as well on denominational grounds of identity (after all, think of the news that the world brings everyday of  the horrendous killings between Sunni and Shia Muslims), would they be wrong?

If I therefore find myself on the side of Farooq Abdullah on  the desirability of opening up, it is not out of any mercenary anxiety about wealth from tourism, although anyone administering the state cannot but think hard about that as well.

Rather from a larger consideration about what the future shape of Kashmir is likely or not to be.

Think of it this way: if  imitation is the best form of flattery, then Narendra Modi does seem to have many admirers in the valley, endorsing the general right-wing principle that what may be indulged at home is not what may be allowed in public, constitutional provisions notwithstanding.   Gujarat, as you know, is a dry state wherein, nonetheless, the grapevine flourishes more than elsewhere.  Indeed, the vigilantes of the Sangh Parivar who go about destroying art works, attacking women, and such like might become role models too.  And what a shame that would be.

Surely, we deserve to return to being Kashmiris.