Thursday, May 25, 2006

Paras Indonesia
May 25, 2006

Saber prattling is again in vogue. Snotty boy shouts "Evil!" The other screams "Bad!" Who's the good guy, who's the rogue?

"Israel must be wiped off the map," huffed the president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a speech last year that made many gasp. Israel "is a regime based on evil that cannot continue and one day will vanish," added the fierce Iranian a few months later.

The head of Iran glowers at mirrors when he speaks. If a mirror scowls back, he smiles. Lately, he has been beaming.

"The president of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map," said Shimon Peres, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Israel's quintessential statesman. "Ahmadinejad represents Satan, not God," crowed Peres, the former Israeli prime minister. "When it comes to destruction," said Peres, currently the Vice Premier of Israel, "Iran, too, can be destroyed."

It's all about reflections, though Soren Kierkegaard would disagree. "What our age lacks," said the Danish philosopher, "is not reflection but passion." Not exactly. Ahmadinejad passionately denies the Jewish Holocaust ever took place and nuclear giants in Europe and the American nuclear juggernaut passionately train their telescopes, microscopes and moral-tropes on Iran's foolish nuclear intentions while cosseting poor, frail, defenseless Israel -- the sixth largest nuclear power in the world and the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.

It's a wise world.

Iran must not be allowed to develop its nuclear program, the US government sanctimoniously tells whoever cares to listen to its ranting. Like many in the world, especially Filipinos, most Americans nod with the rant. Their minds have been on a five-year auto-delete setting for some time. They do no remember that in the mid-70s, America's leaders were copulating with the Shah and encouraging the vile despot that "Iran needed not one but several nuclear reactors." In fact, in 1975, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had signed a contract with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to provide "training for the first cadre of Iranian nuclear engineers." A final draft of a US-Iran nuclear energy agreement was even signed months before the victory of the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1978.

To gain wisdom, seek three methods, Confucius advised. "The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest."

Guess who hasn't gained any wisdom?

In 2003, four months after America invaded Iraq, George W. Bush told a Palestinian delegation at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh that he was "on a mission from God" when he ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did.... And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me."

He's been tailgating again. A vehicle adhesive label on sale at the American Bumper Sticker Store: "4 out of 5 voices in my head say 'Go for it!''"

"The Iranian regime is repressing its people," swaggered the US president. Iran is "sponsoring terrorists, destabilizing the region, threatening Israel, and defying the world with its ambitions for nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats."

Right. Cream of Quagmire's on the US menu once more. Unlike opportunities, said Orlando Aloysius Battista, temptations will always give you a second chance.

The flight of fancy's still the familiar narrative: America, friend of liberty, foe of tyranny. The feint of heart: a compassionate United States standing against an undeniably appalling theocratic regime -- on behalf of those who cannot fight back.

Imperial adventures thrive on a common premise: that we believe in the utter powerlessness of the oppressed along with the 'obligation' of the hyper-power to fight in aid of the subjugated. As if the oppressed had no will -- or history of resistance.

Who remembers the rage of 1979? Within twenty-four hours after an edict issued by Khomeini demanded "women veil themselves," 20,000 Iranian women came out and demonstrated against the diktat.

In 2001 alone - the year of the terrorist attacks on the US - there were 52 street demonstrations against Iran's clerics - one for each week of the year - and 370 strikes, at least one for each day of the year. Around the same period, film events and art house cinemas began to appear along with a student rebellion demanding reforms and the open celebration of the Nauroz festival, a pagan new year which pre-dates Islam, where "young men and unveiled young women ... taunted the religious police to do its worst."

What it all shows, said the novelist Tariq Ali, is that "people learn through their own experiences. These are much better teachers than American bombs." #


1. "Ahmadinejad: Wipe Israel off map,", 26 October 2005.
2. "Iran president says ready for dialogue, brands Israel 'evil' regime'," Ha'aretz, May 11, 2006.
3. Nathan Guttman and news agencies, "Halutz condemns Peres' Iran remarks," Jerusalem Post, 9 May 2006.
4. "Iran’s president will end up like Saddam, claims Shimon Peres," The Daily Times-Pakistan, 16 April 2006.
5. Deborah Orin, "Israel warns Iran: you, too, may face oblivion," New York Post, 9 May 2006. See:
6. From
7. Renato Redentor Constantino, The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire (Quezon City: FNS, 2006), p. 152.
8. Ibid., pp. 52-59. The first discussion in the book dealing with US intervention in Iran with the title "Nothing new in the world" first came out in on 11 September 2004. See:
9. Mohammad Sahimi, "Iran's nuclear program. Part I: Its History," Payvand's Iran News, 2 October 2003. Read all three parts of Sahimi's fascinating essay. Mohammad Sahimi is Professor & Chairman of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Since 1986, he has been a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization devoted to preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and a member of the Union's Partners for Earth Program. The US does not have a monopoly on nuclear hypocrisy. Other countries such as Germany were also involved in the attempt to provide nuclear technology to Iran. For a wider look at the issue, see Saul Landau, "How the United States supplied nuclear know-how to Iran," ZNet, 12 September 2005.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid. See also the excellent discussion by Eric Ruder, "Nuclear hypocrites: World's biggest nuclear bully demands disarmament from Iran,", 18 May 2006.
12. The quote is from
13. "White House denies Bush God claim," BBC News Online, 6 October 2005.
14. Ewen MacAskill, "George Bush: God told me to end the tyranny in Iraq," The Guardian-UK, 7 October 2005.
15. From the website of the Bumper Sticker Store.
16. Zachary A. Goldfarb, "Bush sets conditions for contact with Hamas," Washington Post, 5 May 2006.
17. Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihad and Modernity (Verso, 2002).
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.


Business Mirror
May 25, 2006

A few minutes after the plane landed on the airport runway, the pilot announced the obligatory just-landed twaddle. "Welcome to Manila, it's a bit muggy outside at 32 degrees but I'm sure you'll find the welcome warm and pleasant ... Cabin crew, doors may be opened." I almost jumped out of my seat and cheered. Oh boy, cold weather at last.

I was in Hyderabad for two weeks. A vast, populous city in Andhra Pradesh, which is the fifth largest state of India, Hyderabad is known for its great cuisine, the bustle of its hi-tech industry, its history -- and its heat. Like the rest of the world, the coldest period in Hyderabad is early morning -- but with a slight twist. While I was there, city temperatures sometimes plunged to a chilly low of 32 degrees centigrade and it was dry and often bereft of any breeze.

When the sun's at its highest in Hyderabad and you're inside a room armed only with a powerful ceiling fan, it can feel like living inside a blow dryer. Walking outside is a different matter. It's like sitting in the middle of the day on the back seat of a car in an open-air parking lot in Manila; the engine's dead, the doors are closed and the windows are rolled up and the ground is shimmering from the heat. There is only asphalt, no trees, and there is nothing above you except the baking sun. Add ten degrees to that and you get Hyderabad in May, the city's hottest month. A daily fare of masala curry and chutney adds three degrees more.

The heat is all embracing in Hyderabad and you squint and do what you can to reduce the effect of the mercury attempting to leap out of the city's thermometers. Here, you hydrate or you wilt and perish.

Garishly hot is the city's normal climate and, perhaps, as with many other things in this world, global warming will make it worse. Elsewhere, in north India, while I was moving around in the city, a deadly heat wave had begun to prey mostly on the poor. Homeless families expired, including children, and those with homes stayed mostly indoors.

Yet you get used to the heat after a while and the welter of invectives that would likely bounce around your mind the first few times you try short strolls under the sun gradually disappears. It's still a fascinating place.

It helped that I was in the company of good friends such as Srini, Samir and Soumybrata, each of whom alleviated the effect of high temperatures with their infectious humor and Old Monk rum-wisdom. Our staple drink, apart from rum, was the yoghurt drink lassi, which lines the stomach, Samir insists, in preparation for India's acclaimed Kingfisher Strong Beer, a far better and sweeter brew than the brand's more popular Premium label. Constantly exhausted, scheming and creating present and future trouble, we laughed at everything and everyone, at the heat, and mostly at ourselves.

Hyderabad is famed for its biryanis, a fragrant dish made up of either mutton, chicken or just vegetables mixed with basmati rice, ginger and garlic paste, lime juice, green chili paste and a multitude of aromatic spices such as saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mint leaves and ghee. In Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabadi biryani is the irresistible, constant lure. Biryani eateries abound in the city and most of them are reputedly good. A sure pick, one I've tried, is the popular and cool Paradise Restaurant in the district of Secunderabad, which serves glorious biryanis and great Hyderabadi desserts.

The city's a place of stark contradictions. There is the social contrast spawned by the rapidly growing biotech and information technology industries. Endless exterior slums encircle Hyderabad, a city where "there are more rag pickers than software engineers," where scores of urban dwellers, "expelled from more centrally located slums [that were] torn down to make room for the research parks of the new middle class" have been "consigned to pick over the scraps of the high-tech economy.

On the other hand, there is the romance and ruin of olden times, such as the story explaining the city's origins and decline. The young Muslim crown prince of Golconda, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shahi, was said to have built the city of Hyderabad out love for the Hindu courtesan Bhagmati. Built in 1143, Golconda was made the capital in 1512 by Sultan Quli, the founder of the Qutb Shahi kingdom. It finally fell to the Mughal Emperor Aurengzeb's 1687 siege.

The majestic fortress complex of Golconda is one of Hyderabad's most compelling attractions. It is surrounded by mesmerizing crenellated ramparts and filled with the remains of mosques, pavilions, great halls and stables. From a short distance, it invokes the drama of the magisterial Roman Forum; ascending its uneven stone steps is a tale in itself. Representing the remains of a bygone era, Golconda, which derives its name from the Telugu words "golla konda" -- a shepherd's hill -- was once the home of the fabled Kohinoor diamond, said to be the world's most precious and which now, unsurprisingly, decorates the British crown.

There was dissonance on the night of my departure. I have always preferred cold, rainy places, but beyond its pervasive heat I knew Hyderabad contained more charms than what I had encountered. At the very least I knew I would miss the sight of minarets and the enduring beauty of the Muslim call to prayer regularly echoing throughout the city's mosques -- sights and sounds that made me think of magical Istanbul and soulful Jolo. I had also just begun to get to know friends such as Nayna and Namrata, happy girls who kept exchanging their shoes, as well as the introspective fellows Ananda, Imran, Bidhan and Salil.

But there will be another time. I just know it. #

Comments welcome at redcosmo(at)gmail(dot)com.
All photos copyright of Renato Redentor Constantino. Check out Red's travel pics in his India Photo-Essay by clicking on this link...

1. The writer was in Hyderabad from 26 April to 7 May 2006. To find out what the author was up to in India and why he left the city in a jolly state, click on this link.
2. By the time this piece was sent to the paper's editors, the heat wave had killed 43. "Rain in north, heat wave veers south, 3 killed in UP,", 16 May 2006.
3. Humanity's Ground Zero: A Tomdispatch Interview with Mike Davis,, 9 May 2006.
4. Noopur Kumar, Hyderabad: Portrait of a City (Noopur Kumar, 2005). It is a beautiful book and its pictures are captivating. Look for it when you get the chance. One of my regrets is that I was unable to visit a single bookshop in Hyderabad. I was able to borrow a copy of Kumar's book from the concierge of Hotel Sai Prakash (where you can find the mystical, magical Rich N' Famous bar, the oasis of the brave...)