Shithole? That is what US President Donald Trump is said to have called certain countries of the three continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is familiar language. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once called Bangladesh a 'basket case'.
It is well worth remembering that in 1757 Major General Robert Clive of the East India Company described Dhaka as 'as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London'. Before the Select Committee on East India (1840) Sir Charles Trevelyan said, 'The population of the town of Dacca has fallen from 150,000 to 30,000 and the jungle and malaria are fast encroaching upon the town. Dacca, the Manchester of India, has fallen off from a very flourishing town to a very poor and small town'. Why? Because of imperialism. Montgomery Martin, who testified for the 1840 Select Committee, said that the decline of Dhaka is 'too painful a fact to dwell upon. I do not consider that it has been in the fair course of trade; I think that it has been the power of the stronger exercised over the weaker'. This is a history that Trump maliciously sets aside. His racist view of the world is shared widely. It is not an aberration.
I was in Dhaka till a few days ago. It is a city that I will write about this week for The Hindu's travel section. I'll share that later. While in Dhaka, I met several aid workers who are busy in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar - tending to the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar - the Rohingya population. It was an informative but also depressing meeting. I have been reading reports and books to make sense of the crisis in Myanmar. It is not easy reading, but the general sense of what is happening is not hard to capture. This reading and the conversations in Bangladesh form the basis for my report this week on the violence of Myanmar's state against the Rohingya people. You can read my report at Alternet here.
The picture above is by my friend Shahidul Alam. He writes of this picture, 'Rohingya refugees who arrived from Myanmar to Shah Porir Dwip the previous night, on a boat headed to Bhanga in Teknaf, Cox's Bazar'. I will be writing an essay this week on his wonderful exhibition and book on Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia - now available for view in Dhaka's Drik III Gallery.
Respite grows in the Korean peninsula as the leaders of the North and South decide to talk and - thanks to pressure for the Olympics - the tension levels have begun to drop. This is reassuring. One hopes that these conversations will dampen some of the belligerence that has centered on the peninsula.
The erroneous warning message that shocked the people of Hawaii illustrates the hair trigger. In August, US Defense Secretary James 'Mad Dog' Mattis said that a war between the US and North Korea would be 'catastrophic'. This is a mild term to use. Nonetheless, the US continues to plan for an assault on the peninsula, as the New York Times reported on January 14. It prepares for catastrophe.
Tension has not lessened around Iran. Last week I had written a report - helped along by my Iranian friends inside the country - about the protests that began in Mashad and spread to towns and cities across Iran. In Delhi, Prabir Purkayastha and I sat down to talk about those protests and the continued attempt by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel to destabilize Iran. This itself is a catastrophic policy, to borrow from Mad Dog. You can watch the 14 minute chat between us - and produced by Newsclick - here.
The picture above is by the Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti. Please go and find her work at her website.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in India. He was met at the airport by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They were greeted by mass demonstrations across India. The picture above is from the Left demonstration in Delhi. At that demonstration, former CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat laid out why it was imperative to protest the warming Indian-Israeli ties. You can watch his speech here (in Hindi). Last year, I wrote about India-Israeli ties. Little has changed since then. My essay then, at al-Jazeera, is here.
One piece of good news to share. In Telangana, there is a new political unity between the Left and various Dalit groups, the Bahujan Left Front. You can read the story on this important event here. It shows you that exits are being planned from catastrophic wars and hateful policies. Hope these expand.
Over the course of the past few days, when I've been able to, I've watched the unfolding test match between India and South Africa at the Centurion in Gauteng. I've talking of cricket, of course, which Ashis Nandy said is the Indian game that the English accidentally discovered.
South Africa have begun their second innings. South Africa's former captain Hashim Amla fell to Bumrah for a mere run, although in the first innings his 82 was the best thing on offer. I've long been a fan of Hashim Amla, of his use of his wrists to work the ball onto the leg side and his elegant cover drives. My school cricket coach used to say that the only way to play the forward defensive shot was to lean forward and 'smell the ball'. It seems that Amla was his student - textbook play that seems to come right out of Geoff Boycott's little manual on elegant batting (Geoff Boycott's Book for Young Cricketeers, 1976, which I read religiously).
A little while ago, I enjoyed reading Naren Tolsi's excellent essay on the 'rainbow beauty of Hashim Amla', which you can read here. Naren starts with CLR James' formula for the batsman and then develops a charming portrait of the role of Hashim Amla in the South African team. I'm happy to let you know that Naren will be writing a book on cricket for LeftWord Books. Can't wait to share more on that with you.
Meanwhile, the LeftWord Books site is down. We are having some problems with it - attacks by this or that virus and marauder. It should be back on line soon. Then I'll tell you about some of our books that you must not miss.