THE OTHER COLUMN: We weren’t doing too bad at school, after all... —Ejaz Haider
We also thought we were doing a great job of impressing the girls only to realise after sometime — mercifully it took us less than 60 years — that we were doing crap and we needed to change the MO
Going to an all-boys school is a funny, even bizarre experience. It’s difficult to say whether one learns anything on the academic side — I certainly didn’t — but one sure learns much else, putting into the survival kit odds and ends that help one get along life from the point where it actually begins. Is it a coincidence that that point starts where the simple moral lessons of the primer end?
Playing truant from school was a favourite hobby of some of us, the present writer included, as was stealing cigarettes from the father’s pack and scouting around for magazines and novels one wouldn’t be caught dead with in polite company. Additionally one ended up acting in ways to impress the fair sex that had precisely the opposite effect, the girls pooh-poohing the immature, even downright uncouth ways in which one would try to approach them or chat them up or do any of the zillions of things boys at that age do to try and get their attention — perhaps more if the tarot pack threw up a lucky card.
I was reminded of this while — believe me — reading a statement by US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Dr Rice said: “For 60 years... the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course.”
We also thought we were doing a great job of impressing the girls only to realise after sometime — mercifully it took us less than 60 years — that we were doing crap and we needed to change the MO. The success rate for most of us has been mixed since then, but if one were to liken the activity to skeet shooting then misses with hits are all in a day’s work and one doesn’t need to lose one’s sleep over them. It’s better to enjoy the hits than lament the misses is how the slogan would probably go.
Sadly, for the US, too many misses aren’t the option. Neither is engaging the world and keeping it safe — for the US, that is — a matter of skeet shooting. So Dr Rice and her boss have their work cut out for them and the stakes are higher than trying to get into someone’s knickers. My only problem is the way the US tries to go about it. At school, we also had this ludicrous fondness for sick jokes. Most were bawdy but some straddled the twilight zone between the acceptable and the non-acceptable, defying strict categorisation. These we considered at the time profoundly stupid, albeit funny. Today, as I see the US functioning, I have reviewed my assessment of these jokes. They are, in their own way, stupidly profound.
For instance the one about how does one count a flock of sheep. The correct answer — and one can check it from the policy pundits in Washington — was that one needed to count the legs of the sheep in the flock and then divide them by four. Or the one about the afeemi (opium eater) who met another of his kind one night and laughed and laughed until the friend asked what the matter was with him. Upon that the afeemi said that he had found a (bicycle) pedal. The friend was perplexed and said what was the big deal about a bicycle pedal. The afeemi looked at him with disdain — again try it in one of the hallowed policy confines of Washington — and said mein innu saikal lavavan ga (I’ll put a bicycle to it).
I was a fly on the wall in Washington during the run-up to the Iraq war and all the debates about democracy and the Greater Middle East project and the rest: how the Muslim world should be run, what was wrong with it, the roots of its rage and trillions of other questions that were being asked and answered by experts. There was an element of hubris, definitely, but underlying that was oodles of stupidity and quite remarkable too since it flowed from some of the best minds. Iraq would be a cakewalk; the WMD case against Iraq was slam-dunk; the US needed to spread democracy in the world because the democratic peace theory is such a given.
(By the way, at the low-end of the democratic-peace-theory spectrum is the absurdity Thomas Friedman put forward as the Golden Arches Theory of conflict resolution in The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman argued that that no two countries with a McDonald’s franchise had ever gone to war with one another. Incidentally, India and Pakistan nearly did in 2002 and were saved because of nukes and a host of other factors rather than hamburgers. I’d like to see Kenneth Waltz’s reaction to Friendman’s theory if and when Waltz goes to McDonald’s to get a burger!)
The neo-cons, the democratic imperialists, did a good job of invoking Edmund Burke and J S Mill, going as far back in some cases, as Cicero. Something needs to be said about vision. One can have it without reference to the world outside and its realities: going around with the pedal trying to put a bicycle to it or counting sheep legs and then dividing them by four. We weren’t doing too bad at school, after all!
Ejaz Haider is News Editor of The Friday Times and Contributing Editor of Daily Times