Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander

There’s a video of Zac Goldsmith doing the rounds, where he claims to be ‘a Bollywood fan’ and then fails to name a single Bollywood film or actor that he likes.  As I remarked on Twitter yesterday, his floundering interview was evocative of the Sarah Palin calamity in 2008 when she could not think of a single newspaper or magazine that she read regularly.  Thanks to Sunny Hundal for providing this illustration. Continue reading “Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander”

Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power

I really shouldn’t let the weekend start without jotting a few notes about the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, provoked by the YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims” and fuelled by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The protests have sparked another round of analysis of the the Muslim faith, with the predictable indictment of Islam as uniquely intolerant. The Onion published a very funny NSFW cartoon, blasphemous to all religions except Islam, with the headline ‘No-one Murdered Because of This Image’. Funny, yes, but not actually accurate as satire. The fundamentalist Hindus of India are not above threats and riots when their sacred images are appropriated. The internationally acclaimed artist MF Hussain spent his twilight years in exile because of threats made by his own countrymen, such was their dislike of his Mother India paintings. And Richard Gere’s effigy was burned by an angry mob after he kissed Shilpa Shetty.
The fact that Hindus riot too is instructive. When they do, it is at the encouragement of nationalists groups like Shiv Sena, who seek political power through demonisation and division. When Muslims riot, it is similarly due to local leaders seeking to win political support. Even the Salman Rushdie fatwā (also in the news this week due to the publication of Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton) was raised by Ayatollah Khomeini as part of a power-play. The old Ayatollah had been losing political support in the months leading up to Valentine’s Day 1989, when the infamous decree was issued. Continue reading “Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power”

Sign the Petition Against Dow at the Olympics

I know that politicians and people in power can be notoriously out of touch with reality, and we’ve seem some spectacularly tone deaf policies from the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently… but the Dow Chemicals sponsorship of the London Olympics really takes the biscuit.
Bhopal is a town in Madhya Pradesh, India.  In 1984, a gas plant run by Union Carbide malfunctioned and poisoned at 3,787 to death.  Almost thirty years on, the total number of gas-related deaths to date may be closer to 15,000 with the Indian Government saying that up to half a million people had suffered health problems as a result of the disaster.
Union Carbide, the company responsible for the disaster, is now owned by the Dow Chemical company. Dow deny that they are culpable, despite the numerous convictions of Union Carbide employees in Indian Courts.
The IOC says that because Dow only bought Union Carbide in 2001, that they were not responsible for the accident and the deaths.  However, that’s not how things work.  When one company buys another, they buy the brand and the liabilities of that company as well as their assets.  Wehn Dow bought Union Carbide, Dow legally became Union Carbide – their histories and destinies become intertwined.
Even if the Dow/Union Carbide version of events is true (something that the people of Madhya Pradesh and successive India Governments consider complete baloney), the fact is that a gas leak at their plant ruined the lives of many lakhs of people.  While litigation continues, this company should not be allowed to sanitise their reputation through the sponsorship of London 2012.  It is deeply inappropriate for the International Olympic Committee (hardly a paragon of virtue itself) to take Dow’s money.

Censorship in India

Arundhati Roy. Photo by jeanbaptisteparis on Flickr
Arundhati Roy. Photo by jeanbaptisteparis on Flickr

It is interesting how authors are elevated to positions of moral authority in society.  This is the reason they become particular targets for censorship when they stray from the socially conservative orthodoxy.
Two stories of writers being censored in India have crossed my desk (a metaphor for ‘appeared in my inbox) today.  First, we hear that Rohinton Mistry’s book Such A Long Journey has been cut by Mumbai University’s reading list, adter complaint from Shiv Sena, the unpleasant nationalists who seem to be at the heart of most of the stories of intolerance that emerge from India.  From the Guardian report comes this Tea Party-style rhetoric:

It is our culture that anything with insulting language should be deleted. Writers can’t just write anything. They can’t write wrong things,” said Rawale, who admitted not having read the book.

While Mistry’s right to free expression is clearly under threat here, he is not in the same position as Arundhati Roy, who may be deprived of her liberty in the near future.  Reports from India suggest that Roy (who is the author of Booker winner The God of Small Things) will be charged under ‘sedition’ laws, for comments made about the conduct of the Indian government in Kashmir.  In an English PEN press release I make the point that “laws of sedition are a sinster part of Britain’s colonial legacy – India should not be using such laws to silence debate.”
Continue reading “Censorship in India”

Ebenezer and the Salvation of Debbie Draupati

My election day story about a blogger and some supernatural goings on received mixed reviews.  Some saw it as failed satire, while others enjoyed the ambiguity.  It features a character I had previously put at the centre of a couple of unpublished stories.  One (about an explosion in Jerusalem) is growing rapidly out-of-date, as the technology it describes becomes obsolete and the zeitgeist it tries to describe disappears into history.
The other is republished below.  I’ve just read an article that mentioned ‘web-sentience’ and realised that this story, too, may become irrelevant if I do not publish without further delay.  My other fiction you can read here.


When most people over-achieve beyond their wildest imagination, their voice betrays their desire to talk about themselves.  They might be talking about some commonplace thing, but if you listen carefully, you can hear the eagerness to talk about What They Have Done. Eventually, they will find a way to drop their success into the conversation.  It will as easy to them as dropping a lump of sugar into your tea.  In both cases, you find yourself thanking them for their consideration, even if it is the precise opposite of what you desired.
But what was true for most people was not true of my friend Ebenezer, the prolific blogger. Continue reading “Ebenezer and the Salvation of Debbie Draupati”