I wrote this in 2001 after 9/11. At that time, I lived in the US. This post represents thoughts from that period of my life, and is a culmination of a number of conflicts that arose in my mind at that time, which in turn led to a provocation of deeper interest in understanding the chronological sequence of events in Palestine, Kashmir and Afghanistan, and following up to read more on these subjects. It was also propelled forward by disagreement with ignorant and biased ramblings of so-called experts on American television and radio, who pandered to the nationalistic mood which prevailed in the US at that time.

It has its fundamental origins in my deep rooted disavowal of patriotism and nationalism as divisive notions.  There is only one thing common and binding to all of us – that is the inherent goodness of our selves that we are born with. The goodness that somehow along the way is either misplaced or pushed aside. We all share the same hopes, joys, aspirations and fears as human beings. We are all fundamentally the same, no matter which country we swear our allegiances to.

So, examine we must, the causes of a fellow human being’s misery and pain. What is it that causes so much hatred? Surely there must be some history here. This is an attempt to try and understand it. That must be our first step towards healing wounds that fester.

NOTE: I have gathered my thoughts as well as facts gleaned from readings and ruminations on these subjects over the last couple of years into this essay. Obviously, I have borrowed heavily from various sources, specifically with respect to dates, names, etc. However, I have attempted to put it in my own words, and provide as balanced a perspective as possible. It is impossible to find unbiased authors and information on this subject matter, and it is also near impossible to avoid one’s own bias while writing or reading about this topic. I have as much admiration for the state of Israel as I have sympathy for the Palestinian peoples. However, there seems to be some unfairness and lots of misunderstanding in the way we have treated the Palestinians. Calling it out does not imply an Arab bias or a justification of the horrific violence that this conflict has seen. Hope this is as interesting as it is informative. Let me know what you think.

The other side of the coin

The attack on WTC has caused an emotional earthquake of massive proportions. Whoever did this succeeded in bringing out the best and worst in each one of us, whichever part of the world we may live in. A lot is being said. Yet, a lot seems to be unsaid. There is a great new reality out there that is not being even mentioned. And it is time to unwrap ourselves from our flags and understand it.

The making of the Middle East imbroglio

A lot of today’s crisis in the Middle East has its roots in the perceived manipulation of Arab – and hence by association, Islamic – interests by Western powers, the UK and the US in particular.

Our tale starts in the early 20th century, when Western hemisphere found itself embroiled in a war that arose by the act of a single sniper’s bullet. World War One broke out and divided Europe into Britain and allies against a unified Germany. Not surprisingly, Britain found itself being beaten badly as the war progressed. Historical archives suggest that Britain found itself “staring in the abyss of submission.” The United States had chosen to remain aloof and away from the war, in spite of the threats facing its long time friend.

The Zionist Movement

It is pertinent to digress here to describe the development of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century, started by extremely wealthy Jews in the US and Europe. The Zionist movement was founded by a Viennese businessman – Theodore Herzl whose primary goal was to unite European and American Jews into a powerful, political entity to work towards the ultimate goal of a sovereign Jewish state “Israel”. The “Jewish problem”, as it was described at that time (by Zionists), was “the perceived unwillingness of Western countries to accept Jews in their midst,” and by others as “the apparent inability of Jews to live among others.

Although the Zionist movement was viewed by some (including Jews) with fear and revulsion at that time, it succeeded in capturing the imagination of a majority of Jews. By 1900, the Zionist movement was an organized effort and was perceived widely to wield significant political and financial influence, especially in the United States. It is even claimed that generous contributions from this movement helped Britain’s war efforts, something that the Germans never extinguished from their memories, although there were an equal number of less wealthy Jews who contributed to Germany’s war efforts in World War One, and early in World War Two.

The Zionist movement, spearheaded by Herzl, shopped around the major powers at that time for the possibility of the creation of Israel in what was then called Palestine. No one listened. Except for Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey, who was neck deep in debt and at the end of a long rope his people had given him. Herzl offered to pay off the Sultan’s debts, and in turn the Sultan offered modern day Uganda as a site for Israel. Herzl had his mind set on Palestine. But the Zionist movement voted to take Uganda because of an increasing pessimism about their capabilities to influence the major powers at that time to give them Palestine. Herzl died in 1904, under the mistaken belief that his dream of Israel in Palestine was destroyed.

The Balfour Declaration

Winston Churchill wrote later that the world had not realized how close Britain was to defeat, and that any straw had to be grasped. Such a straw was the claim that Jewish influence in the United States could help bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies. Dr. Chad Weizman, who later became the first President of Israel, used his legendary powers of persuasion on the British to impress upon them his ability to convince the United States to enter the war. In the words of The Encyclopedia Britannica, Britain “hoped” that Jewish influence in America would tip the balance. One reason for this hope was what came to be called “the myth of Jewish power.”

In any case, Britain succumbed to the reality of their circumstances and this gave rise to the now famous, and disputed by others as mythical, Balfour Declaration of 1917, an assurance given by the British government to the Zionist movement.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status of Jews in any other country.”

The Balfour Declaration (Nov. 2, 1917)

British leaders may well have believed the assurances of Dr. Weizmann that Jews in America could help rally opinion to the side of the Allies. Weizmann himself may have believed it at the time. The United States did enter the war on the side of Britain, France and the Allies, thus assuring the defeat of the Central Powers led by Germany. But America’s entry into the war may have had little or nothing to do with any Jewish influence. By the time, the Zionists and British drafted the Balfour Declaration, the Americans were already seven months into the war. But, perception was created about America, and this perception, in the minds of most Arab Muslims, was reality.

The creation of Israel

Modern day Palestine came under British control in the mid 19th century. With tacit British approval, Jewish immigration to the area occurred increasingly starting in 1880, and accelerated through the 1940s as a fallout of Nazi atrocities in Germany. Meanwhile, the local Arab population protested what they suspected to be an attempt to displace them from their homeland. By the 1940s, the Jewish population has grown to sizable numbers in the region and was already in daily conflict with its Arab neighbors.

In 1947, Britain made preparations to withdraw from the Middle East. Under overt British guidance, the UN offered two states : Israel and Palestine. A portion bordering Jordan, known as West Bank and a narrow area along the southern coastline bordering Egypt called Gaza Strip were offered to Palestine. Israel accepted. But, the Palestinians refused.

This did not stop the British from proceeding to execute on the proposal. Incensed at what they considered to be an outrageous violation of their interests by the Jewish-British alliance, the Arabs attacked. In 1948, Egypt from the south, Syria from the North East, and Jordan from the east attacked Israel simultaneously. Before commencement of war, the Arab countries advised the Palestinians within Israel to leave their country for Jordan with the assurance that they could return when the war was won. Over 90 percent of the Palestinian population left with hopes of returning to their homes and property.

Unfortunately for the Palestinians who vacated their homes and left much of their wealth and possessions behind, the Arabs were beaten easily by Israel. All in all, it was an utter defeat for Arab forces especially the Palestinians, who have been ‘lost’ ever since, with fading hopes of reclaiming what was once their home.

A Faustian Deal

In the medieval German legend, Dr. Faustus, or Faust, “sells” his soul to the devil. In the Balfour Declaration, Britain bargained its reputation for integrity and good sense by selling out the Palestinians, against whom it had no complaint, as well as well meaning Jews who worried that increased anti-semitism would result from the deal. Faust made a bad bargain, but he hurt only himself. The Balfour bargain brought misery on four parties mentioned in the declaration, and on a fifth unmentioned party, the United States, whose entry into World War I Britain had hoped to achieve from the deal. The four mentioned parties were Britain itself, “the Jewish people” who were promised a state of their own in Palestine, “Jews in any other country”, and “the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” meaning the Palestinians.

The Palestinians thus became a whole nation of Biblical Jobs who had done nothing to merit continuing agony. Three-quarters of a million of them lost homes and property in 1948 and 1949 as a result of Israeli aggression. Another 250,000 were forced out of Palestine at gunpoint in 1967 when Israeli forces seized the West Bank and Gaza, along with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights. More than half of the current total of 6.5 million Palestinians now live outside their ancient homeland.

Britain seems to have suffered the least. However, its departure from the Middle East, and from its Empire as a whole, was hastened as it eventually dawned on residents of other British colonies that, rather than shepherding the Palestinians along to self-government, as required by the terms of Britain’s League of Nations “mandate” for Palestine after World War I, London had heartlessly sacrificed the Palestinians to advance its own interests.

If the Palestinians are the big losers, the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel, “the Jewish people” of the Balfour Declaration, appear to be the big winners 84 years (as of 2001) after the declaration was issued. But it’s perhaps still too early to be certain. Instead, one might bear in mind the words of the late Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. When asked in the 1970s what he thought of the French Revolution which happened than a century and a half earlier, he replied, “Let’s wait and see how it turns out.”

Notes from a recent trip to Turkey 

A world historian in mid 16th century could not have been faulted for confidently predicting the dominance of Asia and Islam in world affairs for times to come. The dominant empires of the world at that time were the Mughal Empire in Hindustan and the Ottoman empire in Middle East Asia and Europe.

Mohammad Jalal-ud-din Akbar had just firmly established the Mughal empire in Hindustan, having seized Delhi back from Samrat Hemchandra Vikramaditya (Hemu), following it up by annexing Kandahar from the Persians. Shahenshah Akbar-e-Azam was just getting into his stride on the way to becoming the greatest ruler of the Mughal empire.

At that precise moment in history, the Ottoman empire was at its zenith, led by Kanuni Sultan Suleiman, known in the East as Suleiman “the Law Giver” and in the West as Suleiman “the Magnificent” – with Christian strongholds of Belgrade, Hungary and Rhodes as well as entire Middle East Asia and large swathes of North Africa in its sway. Their Christian rivals – the Hapsburgs in Austria-Hungary – were kept in check if not subjugated. The Holy City of Jerusalem came to fall into the hands of the Empire. And the Shia Safavid dynasty in Persia had just surrendered to the dominance of the Sultan who marched triumphantly into Baghdad.

Incidentally, around the exact same time, a gentleman by the name of Ivan IV “the Terrible” had not so quietly crowned himself the “Tsar”, laying the seeds for the famous Tsarist empire that grew over time to dominate Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What heady times it must have been for the historian! Between the Mughal and Ottoman empires, they controlled nearly 1 of 5 people on the planet and produced close to half the world’s GDP. Although Akbar the Great ruled over a greater size of population and was more progressive in his governance, it is Suleiman who understandably captured the attention of the western world at that time. And, Constantinople, overlooking the Bosphorus, was justifiably described the “center of the world”.

Yet, history has a way of making something big happen every hundred years or so. And so the fortunes swung towards the Europeans in the 17th and the 18th centuries as the British, Spaniards and the Portuguese came to pre-eminence and supplanted the Islamic empires around the world. The crowning achievement of these later centuries, of course, was the systematic establishment and dominance of India as a western colony, which sealed the British empire’s status as the new world power by the time the 19th century rolled around.

Flash forward to the early 20th century – when a sniper’s bullet felled the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, triggering what came to be known as the Great War or the First World War. The four major empires – the Hapsburgs (from Austria-Hungary), the Ottomans, the Russian Tsarist empire and the British empire – with their historical rivalries in the background, clashed in this major world conflict, one which resulted in a victory for the Allies (England, France, Russia) against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary). Ironically, the Ottoman empire chose to throw in its lot on the side of its once bitter rival – Austria-Hungary – and ended up on the losing side.

Notwithstanding its success in the war, the Tsarist empire in Russia was overthrown in the Bolshevik revolution led by Lenin and comrades. The Austrian-Hungarian empire was whittled down to a shell of its former self. The British empire’s dependence on American military technology was established, which eventually led to the forced withdrawal of England from its colonies by the end of the Second World War by the Americans. The Ottoman empire, already described as the “sick man of Europe” was dismembered and distributed among the Allied Forces after the First World War in a stunning and humiliating reversal for the Turks who had held court in most of Europe and Middle East Asia for a good part of six centuries. Indeed, post Second World War, no less than 39 new countries were formed, which were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Thus all four empires perished and were either dismantled or transformed, sooner or later, in the aftermath of the war, thus paving the way for the United States to emerge as the new power in the 20th century.

It was against this backdrop that a group of rebel ‘nationalists’ led by Mustafa Kemal (who later took the title ‘Ataturk’), a Turkish officer in the Ottoman army, defeated the Allied forces in Anatolia (Central Turkey) with tacit support from the Russian Bolsheviks and forced the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which led the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the return of Constantinople to Turkey after a brief period of Allied occupation.

If Rome is the eternal city, Istanbul – as Constantinople was renamed by Kemal Ataturk – has to be the timeless city, having endured centuries of struggle and change. Once the bastion of Christianity in the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire, and then the capital of the Islamic Ottoman Turks, Istanbul is now a modern, secular and vibrant metropolis which yearns to be admitted into the European fold, of which it was once the capital city.

Everyone’s talking about Pakistan. You can’t run for office, nay even step out of the kitchen these days without knowing your Waziris from your Mehsuds and your Lashkars from your Jaishes. Not everyone knows what they are talking about. After all, there are lots of guys over there doing some incredibly bizarre stuff, that it’s not always clear as to ‘who’s doing what to whom’. Here’s my attempt to clarify the picture.

In the spirit of fair disclosure, I must admit that I’ve never visited Pakistan, let alone lived there. It might sound surprising considering that I live about a 2-3 hour flight away from the country. Let’s face it. A weekend in Abbotabad is not high on a list of bliss filled, weekend getaways. Not to mention that faintest traces of a Pakistani visa stamp on the passport is likely to get you water boarded in Guantanamo. Instead, I’ve relied on conversations with Pakistanis (had while studying in the US), articles in the Economist (inexplicably committed to memory over the years), and healthy levels of stereotyping (that just springs spontaneously). Read carefully, memorize every detail, and prepare for a lucrative career as an ‘expert’ on the lecture circuit.

A Short History of Nearly Everything Pakistani

Did you know that the name Pakistan is an acronym? For P(unjab), A(fghan) province aka North Western Frontier, K(ashmir), S(indh) and ‘stan‘ from Baluchistan. It also happens to mean the “Land of the Pure” in Persian, a great example of those fortuitous coincidences in history when English acronyms and Persian words magically align to make sense. In this nugget lies the answer to a question that has nagged Indians over the decades. Why does Pakistan adamantly hold on its Kashmir fantasy? The answer is pretty obvious. Giving up Kashmir would mean removing ‘K’ from Pakistan, thus rendering it “Paistan”, which sounds like a place in Mangalore.

To cut a long history short, I’d pick two events which conspired to change its trajectory. The first was a Mongol warrior named Babur deciding to swing by through the Khyber pass in 1526 AD, which resulted in the Islamization of the region. The second was the culmination of that destiny through the declaration of an Islamic Republic of Pakistan on 23 March 1956. The Mughal secular doctrine, from which the Turks learnt a few tricks, was forgotten in the din, and it is a irony of history that Turkey now stands a shining example to its erstwhile teacher.

Lots of things have happened since August 14, 1947. Unfortunately, most of it had to do with losing expensive wars, leading to a paranoid-delusional fixation with India, and a self-destructive one-dimensional escalation of its Islamic identity in rebellion against a world which has consistently failed to acknowledge or even remember that Pakistan was once part of an original act – as one of the cradles of civilization itself. Hell clearly hath no fury like a mutinous 3,000 year old.

From an Indian perspective, Pakistan has always represented a failure of imagination. How can one build a theocratic republic in the 20th century? And from the Pakistani perspective, India has presumably stood for a failure of principle. How does one build an identity without an anchor in dogma? Sixty four years later, the Indian identity has not been forged and still is hard to fathom or describe. On the flip side, the Pakistani identity that has emerged has been more disturbing than inspiring. There have been failures on both sides. At this moment in time, Pakistan’s miss clearly appears the more egregious one.

Don’t Leave Home Without Your Lashkar

There is a bewildering cast of characters on the loose today in Pakistan. The only thing they have in common is that they are all fighting. What’s with all these lashkars and jaishes, you may ask and quite rightly so. Say you are a small time tribal chieftain in North Waziristan, which has a reputation for being a badass neighborhood. You start to think about assembling an entourage for protection. That’s when you assemble your own personal lashkar, a word which means ‘tribal posse’. No jihadi group worth its salt would be caught dead or attempting a suicide bombing without a Lashkar or Jaish prefix. There’s Lashkar-e-Toiba, which fights Indians in Kashmir. There’s Lashkar-e-Janghvi which specializes in bombing Shiites in Quetta.  There are many lesser known lashkars fighting the Taliban in FATA. And, then there’s Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is just about game for just about anything on just about any given day.

Let’s talk about the Taliban. These chaps started out fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan alongside the US and General Zia. Al Qaeda are their foreign guests. After the Soviets left, the Taliban ran amok in Afghanistan, pursuing their twin passions of opium trafficking and locking up women. Post 9/11, the Taliban and their guests were decimated by the Americans and fled to their havens in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). What bears mention is that FATA is not the same as the North Western Frontier Province, which, as the name suggests, is a province and governed by laws drafted in Islamabad. FATA, on the other hand, is governed by ‘agents’ who report directly to the President. The other thing to keep in mind is the distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban. What’s good? And, what’s bad? Well, the answer depends on whether you are asking the question in Karachi, Mumbai or Washington DC.

What’s Good, Phaedrus, and What’s Bad? Need We Ask Anyone to Know These Things?

Confused? What ho, let me explain. Take the example of a delightfully militant chap called Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan. He’s a Taliban leader from the Waziri clan, who’s interested in knocking the stuffing out of *only* the following people – Americans, Afghans and NATO. He’s the darling of Pakistani military types and is what’s called the good Taliban. On the other hand, Baitullah Mehsud, who comes from the rival Mehsud clan and accused of assassinating Benazir Bhutto, doesn’t get invited to parties and movie premieres in Islamabad because he is a bad Taliban. However, all Taliban, good and bad, share common proclivity towards toting Kalshnikovs, random caning, misogyny, facial hair, a bad attitude and an abhorrence of anything involving fun and frolic.

An Army which has a Country

Where’s the ISI in all of this? Before we answer that, let’s complicate things more. ISI is the intelligence wing of the military. The Army has its own intelligence wing called the MI. Since there was consensus that there was not enough intelligence going around, the Interior Ministry formed its own captive intelligence wing called the Special Branch. As for the military, you have the (in)famous Pakistani army, the sixth largest in the world. It is said that countries have armies. The only army in the world to have a country is the Pakistani one.

On any given day, no one really knows who’s fighting what. Case in point is the recent international incident in which American and Pakistani armed forces chased a group of (bad) Talibanis across the Durand line (Af-Pak border) only to be met with fire from the Frontier Corps. Are these guys the fundamentalist goons that they are made out to be? Well, the armed forces and the agencies are run by the non-bearded Oxford elite who are likely more fond of Johnny Walker than of Sharia.

Waziris, Afridis, Mehsuds, ISI, MI, Special Branch, the Army, Frontier Corps, good and bad Taliban, Al Qaeda. It’s a wonder that Somali pirates haven’t appeared on the scene yet. Naturally you may enquire (again, rightfully so) – what if I was a tourist wandering around the beatific Swat country side and bump into one of these chaps. How do I tell one from another? My friend, these trifling details won’t matter because you’ll be too busy getting beheaded to notice.

Bottom Line

Pakistan is not just a failing state. It’s a dying, once proud civilization, that held court to profound discourse in places like Taxila, and one which now stands teetering at the edge of the precipice. At some level, we all share the burden of resurrecting it. But, the solution at a fundamental level lies in the hands of its people alone. There is a third date worth mentioning. The day – Nov 1, 2011 – on which Imran Khan led an anti government rally attended by 100,000+ youth, surprising himself and his opponents alike. Is this a harbinger of a turnaround? Perhaps a date that might be cited 20 years hence as yet another inflection point in the country’s tortured existence? Can the former captain can get a spot of reverse swing going?

Imran Khan at a rally

Inshallah, I only wish. An implosion of Pakistan would mean the death of something that was once profound and sublime.

There is a lot of hand wringing about the recent downgrade of the US debt, an unprecedented event, which some say, is the beginning of the end of the amazing run of the United States of America. What Ho! puts the American phenomenon, predictions about its decline and fall and other world sentiments about the land of the brave and the home of the free in perspective in this month’s Op-Ed.

Of the man-made phenomena in the last two hundred plus years, one that has to bubble towards the top of a ranking order has to be the rise of the American state. Built on principles of individual liberty and exercise of free will, America has shown the way and led a graceful transition of the Western hemisphere out of an old world ruled by kings, queens, despots and dictators. Along the way, it proved that an economic system built around free markets, merely another form of free will, can be world beating. The free flow of people, thoughts and money in and out of America has led to a renaissance in science, technology, economics and art, which has benefited the entire world.

The extraordinary founding fathers who designed this extraordinary system set out to simply give full expression to the positive and energizing aspects of human existence, a luxury they were not afforded by the masters they escaped from. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” may appear simple and obvious today to those of us who have seen or experienced it. Obvious and simple – it was not, two hundred years ago. The birth and rise of America is an unquestionable  triumph of the sublime and beautiful aspects of human existence. Something the entire world should marvel and take pride in. After all, mistakes of entire generations past precipitated the necessity for an America to emerge. The American phenomenon truly belongs to the entire world.

Peoples around the world have little comprehension of the historical struggles of America and the demons it has cast out, in its rise to eminence. America has battled corruption, slavery, racism, sexism, phobias in its relatively young existence and emerged stronger after each tussle, giving rise to hope and optimism in that process. It is an undeniable fact that America was built by and made up of Christians, who have worked comfortably with their beliefs and not let these stand in the way of their guiding principles. It is more a testament to the triumph of reason, good judgement and principles and less to the Christian beliefs themselves. It is difficult to understand a system, its evolution and its struggles. It is easier to cast aspersions by filtered viewing of the demons that are yet to be cast out. Unsurprisingly, most people take the easy route.

Today, the view of America is tinged with many emotions – a little admiration, largely envious resentment and and even some outright hatred. While hundreds of thousands of people are busy emigrating their way to a hopeful life in America, thousands others are busy giving vent to their hatred and planning acts of violence against it. Millions others are busy simply observing and opining, some more animatedly than others. America’s recent economic troubles have provided plenty of fodder for all. There has been anger and resentment against America for a good part of the last five decades. Historically, this resentment was fueled by socialist and communist idealogues, whose discomfort with the brash, freewheeling, individualistic American system stemmed from their reluctance and inability to understand its success. Ostriches with heads buried in the sand, they resisted until they were no more.

Today’s anger and resentment against America no longer feeds off a conflict in ideology. It is shifting to something more personal and capricious. Even peoples in economies like India or Mexico or Brazil, which continue to benefit from borrowing American principles of free will and free markets, are surprisingly resentful. Why? This is surprising because one would expect these peoples to become increasingly familiar with and thus more understanding of American strengths and foibles, as they try to emulate it. Resentment of America seems to derive its energy from several perceptions-

1. Americans are arrogant. They wage unjustified wars for personal gain. They operate with no regard for the rest of the world. They take sides and are not fair.

2. Americans are lazy and stupid. They know little about the rest of the world. They live off the work of immigrants.Their elections are flawed and so are their leaders

3. Americans are materialistic. They place mammon above all, have no culture or soul. They are a bad influence on the rest of us

As with perceptions, there is a little truth, some misunderstanding and large amounts of bias in all of the above. For every bad apple in the American basket, there are several others that  restore the balance. Let us not pretend that America does not have its foibles. Rather, let us learn by observing how it corrects itself. Therein lies the strength and secret of endurance of the system. Unfortunate perceptions have prompted reactions to America’s recent misfortunes (9/11, sub-prime debacle, recession, etc.) ranging from schadenfreude ridden “chickens coming to roost, this is comeuppance, and the end of arrogant America” to well meaning “hope they get their act together”. It is said that you know you are down when the least qualified stop by to give you unsolicited advice. If that’s true, America is truly well and down.

Evolution is a series of mis-steps, punctuated by a-ha moments. The Americans, like anyone else, are evolving and discovering. The last decade has been a period of mis-steps and discovery for America. Election of George Bush, in hindsight, appears to have done more damage than good. If  9/11 had not happened, his presidency could well have been uneventful, even provided some comic respite and shorter by 4 years. it is pointless to speculate how the wheels within the wheels could have turned. Good news is that we all learnt some lessons. Bad news is that we cannot get that time back and some mistakes have to be undone. Yet others cannot be undone. Most important point is that America demonstrated a remarkable will to go down the learning and correcting path by electing Obama. Again, reason and good judgement triumphed over ideology, giving rise to hope and optimism.

The world will have find a way to let go of George Bush, Iraq and the rest of the baggage that America itself is anxious to dispose. If there is anything to be learnt from the last ten years, it is that the best can make mistakes, and often they do not seek or need others’ permission to make mistakes. In front of us, is an emerging world order with China, India and Brazil rising to the fore and making their presence felt. America may lead this new world order or maybe not. Everything that rises eventually fades. The time for America to fade away will come inevitably and surely. Let us hope that the sublime and beautiful aspects of human existence are respected and protected by the new leaders when they come. That’s the kind of world, I hope, our children and theirs will make their own mis-steps and discoveries.

Those who forget history, they say, are doomed to repeat it. What Ho! is proud to bring you the memorable moments in the post independence history of India, as seen on a Facebook wall.

Inspired by Teddy Wayne, Mike Sachs and Thomas Ng ‘s Op-Art at New York Times.