An edited version of this appeared on rediff on May 6th at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/06/rajeev-srinivasan-on-the-banality-of-evil.htm

Why good people do bad things: the ordinariness of evil

Rajeev Srinivasan on why normal people do appalling things in the wrong circumstances

In the aftermath of the Ajmal Kasab trial and the failed bomb attack in New York, the impartial observer would find it hard to conclude that Pakistanis were mild, inoffensive people. But in fact there are a number of people – apart from the professional Wagah candle-holders – who cannot believe that this kind of horror could come from the kind of Pakistanis they know – PLUs (people like us), urbane, sophisticated, great hosts and dinner companions.

There is, of course, the fallacy of rapid generalization: every Pakistani is not like the people you know, who are likely to be the world-traveling sort. There are many dirt-poor, uneducated people who have been brainwashed with strange notions of what Indians are like and what India is like. Given high population growth and a fairly stagnant economy, the number of these “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” people is much larger than those at the top of the pyramid, the 22 ruling feudal families who own the place.

But apart from the logical fallacy, there is also a more subtle issue, that of how easily evil can take over  even perfectly normal, well-adjusted people. It turns out you don’t have to be a sociopath to do the most horrifying things: your random neighbors, such as the kindly old man down the street, the kid who drops off the newspaper, the old lady who is full of religious zeal – any and all of them can turn into monsters under the appropriate circumstances.

This was demonstrated in Cambodia, when under the Khmer Rouge, perfectly ordinary people became mass killers. I have been to Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation center in the middle of Phnom Penh, where thousands of people were tortured, and confessions extracted from them. They were photographed and meticulous dossiers prepared about each of them. They were then taken to the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town and dispatched with a blow to the back of the head with a spade.

But what is most amazing about Tuol Sleng is that it was formerly a school in the middle of a residential neighborhood! It still looks like an inoffensive school from outside, although inside it is the Genocide Museum, with the interrogation cells left as they were, harrowing paintings of inhuman torture, and row after row of black and white photographs of those who were about to die, including some Indians and other foreigners. It is a metaphor for the banality and very ordinariness of evil. The Khmer Rouge were the greatest mass-murderers in the recent past, killing some 15% of their compatriots.

Ordinary Cambodians – farmers, artisans, bicycle-repairers, fishermen – were instruments of civilizational suicide. Similarly, perfectly normal Hutus went on the warpath in Rwanda against  embattled Tutsis, attempting genocide. Ordinary Germans did the bidding of the Nazis; ordinary Europeans participated in an orgy of violence on innocent people during the horrifying Inquisition, dispatching thousands, especially women, in the most appalling ways.

And so with the Pakistanis. The young men of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist outfits were not monsters to begin with: they were turned into what they are quite deliberately – they have been manufactured by a consciously-created system where they have no choice but to become monsters.

I was reminded of all this when I was listening to an archived podcast from 2007 of an interview with Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor from Stanford, whose celebrated “Stanford Prison Experiment” of 1971 was a startling practical demonstration of how evil is engendered. In 2006, Zimbardo wrote a new book, The Lucifer Effect, because he was struck by similarities between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and the Stanford experiment.

The experiment was simple: Zimbardo set up a simulated prison in the basement of one of Stanford’s buildings, and recruited 24 normal male college students for a two-week study of the behavior of prison guards and prisoners. The students were randomly assigned to either role and given uniforms or prison smocks to wear, but no specific instructions on behavior except that there must be no physical contact. Zimbardo himself acted as both ‘jail superindendent’ and research leader.

The results were startling: within 36 hours, the ‘guards’ started misbehaving, exerting their power over the ‘prisoners’. One of the prisoners had a nervous breakdown. Within three days, the guards were exhibiting brutal, sadistic behavior, and the prisoners were increasingly humiliated and oppressed. Several other prisoners also had nervous breakdowns. On the night of day five, sexual torture began: the prisoners were made to expose themselves, and to simulate sodomy with each other.

On the sixth day, a shaken Zimbardo abandoned the experiment, which had been slated to run for two weeks. He was shocked to realize that certain dangerous boundaries were being crossed, and that some of the participants might end up with permanent psychological damage.

The fact that perfectly normal, intelligent college students – they had been screened for any abnormality – could so easily be turned into sadistic monsters is astonishing. Apparently the situation had gotten the better of them:

Perhaps the normal human condition is indeed the Hobbesian “nasty, brutish and short”. Maybe “Lord of the Flies”, the book about a group of boys abandoned on an island evolving into a dictatorial society, is all too true. Perhaps the Law of the Jungle is indeed the right metaphor, much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beyond fang and claw and might-is-right.

In a related study, the Milgram Experiment at Yale analyzed the willingness of volunteers to administer electric shocks to unseen victims based on orders from authority figures. It turned out that – with no gender differences – people were quite willing to torture people whom they had never met. (The shocks were simulated, and so were the recorded screams of the recipients, but the subjects didn’t know that.)

Zimbardo believes that it is not the individual’s own inherent tendencies, but the social situation around them that drives bad behavior. That can help us understand the pathology of the Pakistani situation. These young men have been told for such a long time that Indians and Hindus are evil and monstrous that they have internalized it. It is the environment that addles them. Therefore, expending a lot of effort on the arrest and prosecution of individual terrorists is not going to have a major impact, because they are expendable – there are many waiting in line, ready to step into their shoes. In that sense, it is immaterial what happens to Ajmal Kasab – he is simply cannon fodder, dispensable.

It is the system that is psychotic, and it is so by intent. That is why Pakistan refuses steadfastedly to move against those who have created the system: for instance, Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ul Dawa (the current nom-de-guerre of the Lashkar-e-Toiba). The Pakistanis have refused again and again to prosecute Saeed, just as they refuse to extradite Dawood Ibrahim. These are strategic assets for the ISI. People like Hamil Gul, ex-ISI eminence-grise, have articulated the grim calculus of this perspective.

The system in Pakistan was put in place by General Zia-ul-Haq, who fundamentalized education, the Army, and the rest of society (it may be remembered that Zia in effect banned the use of the ‘Hindu’ sari, and encouraged the ‘Pakistani’ salwar-kameez). The textbooks were re-written to eulogize Central Asian invaders. History begins with the Arab invasion of Sind in 712 CE. The word ‘Hindu’ is always preceded by ‘cunning baniya’. The idea that a single Mohammedan soldier is worth ten Hindus in valor was put about, notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary.

American psychologist Sam Keen suggested in Faces of the Enemy that a major part of warfare lies in dehumanizing the enemy. Every nation has created extraordinary propaganda against its enemies: by internalizing this, young soldiers are able to kill other young men without compunction, because they believe the enemy are sub-human monsters intent on raping ‘our’ women, destroying ‘our’ nation, and so on. The  book includes hundreds of posters, cartoons and other material from 20th century propaganda, which Keen calls the “archetype of the hostile imagination”.

Surely, there is Indian propaganda against Pakistan; however, it is on a secular plane, and does not target Pakistanis based on religion. In fact, average Mohammedans are better off in India as compared to anywhere else in the world, including, and especially Pakistan, where only the feudal upper classes (castes) live well. In  North India (as seen in Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, there is a certain admiration – justified or not – for some alleged nawabi high culture, possibly because using Farsi/Arabic is considered cultured by some.

And the leftists in the media are ever-ready to cry themselves hoarse in the service of poor Mohammedans. Not to mention a government with a Prime Minister who says without irony, “Muslims must have first claim on the nation’s resources”, which is, in passing, strange from someone sworn to uphold the religion-blind Constitution.

But that is not what Pakistanis believe. In encounters with middle-class Pakistanis in America and on the Internet, I have heard how glad they are that there is a homeland for subcontinental Mohammedans who would otherwise have been oppressed by Hindus. They are silent, however, when I point out that there are, in fact, two homelands, and how the one homeland couldn’t keep half of its inhabitants happy and started a genocidal war with them.

This incomprehension about India was seen in the transcripts of the conversations by the 11/26 terrorists with their handlers in Pakistan: the terrorists were obviously confused that India was not a whole lot like what they had been brainwashed into believing.

Thus, it is the environment, of radicalization and mind-games, that is creating a cadre of evil-doers. Any amount of ‘talks’ and ‘goodwill gestures’ and ‘walking the extra mile’ is unlikely to change the situation unless the hate-mongering institutions with a monomanical jihadi agenda are dismantled. So long as India cannot get Pakistan to do this, there will be an endless supply of cannon fodder.

There is another issue – terrorism has now become a job, and quite a lucrative one at that. Zimbardo is of the opinion that a lot of the brutality in the Stanford Experiment and at Abu Ghraib happened because of simple boredom, especially at night, when the guards had nothing better to do and wanted some entertainment – perhaps the ultimate in the banality of evil.

In the case of the Pakistanis, and, alas, in the case of a number of home-grown terrorists in India, terrorism has now become an easy and attractive job, with perks like foreign trips (eg. to Pakistan via Dubai to throw people off the scent), cash (including counterfeit Indian rupees shipped in container-loads), women (who will dare say “no” to an AK-47?) and so on. For an ill-educated youth with poor prospects, this must be like manna from heaven. This has been demonstrated in Kerala where a number of young men were trained and shipped off to J&K as mercenaries/jihadis to kill Indian soldiers.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance between the “they are just like us” ordinary citizens of Pakistan and the ruthless killers is a matter of their environment. Unless it is cleaned up, and the godfathers of the system such as Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim forced to stand down, India – and (note to President Obama) the West — will continue to face evil and bleed. It is not the individuals, but the system of propaganda and inducement of hatred that is to blame. And that suits the Pakistani establishment just fine: it sustains their failing State.

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Published by the Pioneer on May 4:

http://www.dailypioneer.com/173668/Triumph-and-tragedy-in-Sri-Lanka.html

The news and the images coming out of Sri Lanka are horrendous: 100,000 Tamil civilians trapped on a tiny beach, where cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are making their last stand . The LTTE are using the civilians as shields (according to the Sri Lankan government); and government troops have shelled hospitals and killed thousands of non-combatants this year (according to The Economist quoting human-rights groups and the UNHCR).

The photographs of long-suffering Tamil refugees fleeing the war with nothing more than the clothes on their backs remind us of the curse of the Indian subcontinent: religion- and ethnicity-based conflict, generally leading to the genocide of Hindus. We saw this in 1947 and 1971. Millions of Hindus were ethnically cleansed from Pakistan and Bangladesh then, and the handful remaining are now fleeing newly-Talibanized territories; now they are being driven out of Sri Lanka’s Jaffna and the Eastern Provinces at the fag-end of a brutal civil war.

The LTTE certainly did not expect to fade into oblivion, their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran a fugitive. Only a couple of years ago, the Tigers were rampant, scoring victories on land and sea, and terrorizing Colombo with their makeshift air force. What turned things around? Probably much covert aid from governments, including India’s, wary of the Tigers’ penchant for redrawing boundaries by force (and China’s, fishing in troubled waters).

That, and internal dissension. The turning point was the defection in 2004 of ‘Colonel’ Karuna Amman, formerly LTTE commander in the Eastern Province. The LTTE ran a tight ship, and defectors generally were liquidated, but Karuna – as reported by the Wall Street Journal last year — thrived, and has become a minister, although he is at loggerheads with his erstwhile protégé and now-Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, Pillaiyan.

After sama (negotiations) and dana (give-aways) failed, bheda (creating dissent) worked, and now the Sri Lankans are applying the last of the four tactics of classical Indian stagecraft, danda (punishment). This is an object lesson for India’s pusillanimous politicians who advocate sweet-talk and appeasement of terrorists; and for Obamistas, advocating land-for-peace (India’s land, that is, to be given to Pakistan, so that the ISI would leave the Americans in peace). Pandering does not work, the iron fist does. Crush the terrorists first, then talk to real people.

There is a startling silence in India about the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This has to do with two factors: one is that most of the shrieking banshees in the human-misery cottage-industry do not care about the human rights of Hindus, and Sri Lankan Tamils are about 85% Hindu. Second is that the killing of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE, and the incessant noise by the DMK in their favor has genuinely turned off many people. The LTTE’s idea of its Tamil Eelam (they have taken down the maps on their website showing this) consists of north and eastern Lanka, all of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and parts of Karnataka and Andhra: in other words, most of South India. This is comparable to the jihadi wet-dream of a ‘Mughalistan’ consisting of most of North India.

It further appears that this ‘Eelam’ was meant to be a Christian-stan, in fearsome symmetry with ‘Mughalistan’. Let us note in passing that at Partition, missionaries had demanded a Christian-stan consisting of the Northeast, tribal areas of the Central Provinces (Chota Nagpur), and Travancore. Clearly, they have not given up the idea of territorial gains through any means.

The church has a well-known modus operandi. In Rwanda, the church fomented genocide by dividing Hutus and Tutsis – who, to the casual observer, and to the geneticist, appear identical – through claiming that the former were short and dark, and the latter were tall and fair, and that Tutsis were oppressing Hutus. Several Christian godmen and godwomen have been convicted of crimes against humanity for their direct role in massacres of Tutsis.

In India too, the church has fabricated a divide between the alleged ‘Aryans’ and ‘Dravidians’ – tall and fair vs. short and dark, oppressor, oppressed, sound familiar? – which was initially the handiwork of a white padre named Caldwell. It remains an interesting but little-known fact that churchman Max Mueller who invented the entire ‘Aryan’ fiction recanted in later years, admitting he was wrong.

The church has had a dubious role in Sri Lanka too. It is surely curious that most of the famous cadres of the LTTE are Christians (examples include Prabhakaran himself who is a Methodist, Anton Balasingham, the suicide-bomber Dhanu who killed Gandhi). Senior non-Christians in the LTTE, remarkably, have been captured, have died in battle, or been liquidated.

And the LTTE has wiped out all other groups representing the Tamil cause. The very ruthlessness of the LTTE is an indicator of its Semitic thought-process. Buddhists and Hindus have always co-existed peacefully all over Asia – in India, Indonesia, Afghanistan, etc. – until West Asian ideologies appeared. The church, and the LTTE, had no use for moderates or for negotiation.

There is another party with ill-intent in all this: China. As part of their ‘string of pearls’ strategy, they previously supported violent Communist insurgents, but these were wiped out by the Sri Lankan government. Now the Chinese are supplying heavy equipment, including planes and artillery to the army. Their likely objective: the prized deep-water port of Trincomalee, which would help them control shipping in the Indian Ocean, not to mention be a serious problem for India in its own backyard.

But with the apparent demise of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government should be able to negotiate from a position of strength. Tamils can see that militancy and terrorism has achieved nothing but catastrophe for them. The Sinhalese, if they are wise, will deal magnanimously with their Tamil fellow-countrymen and reconcile with them. They must recognize that Tamils have genuine grievances arising from bumiputra-style discrimination against them for decades. They need to appreciate that the LTTE are not synonymous with Tamils. Then Sri Lanka can become the success story of the subcontinent with its superior health and education record.

Part I has been posted at rediff.

My objective here is to show that Nandigram is only a small symptom of the destructiveness of Communists who are arguably the worst human-rights violators in history, with the possible exceptions of the Christian and Mohammedan imperialists. Communists are the fascists par excellence.

Intriguingly, Communism is eerily identical to the established Christian entities.

Vatican = Soviets

Protestants = Chinese

Reformation = the schism between the Soviets and the Chinese

Paul = Engels

Christ = Marx

Pope = Mao

Early Martyrs = Che Guevara et al

Missionaries = Marxists

Bible = Das Kapital + Mao’s Red Book

Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, etc. = Marxists, Maoists, Shining Path, Khmer Rouge

I am sure you can think of many more exact analogies.

There are Communists of many stripes, who profess various differences — but their internal ideological battles are roughly as immaterial as the minor doctrinal differences between the various splinter Christian cults.

Their common factor is that they destroy people and lands that they take over.

Part 1 — Rajeev Srinivasan on why the common man doesn’t matter to Communists

 

There is nothing in the way the Communists of West Bengal conducted themselves at Nandigram that should have amazed anybody. There have been enough instances of Communists demonstrating that despite all their pious propaganda about the rights of the common man, in practice Communism is mostly about self-aggrandizement and the growth of the State at the expense of the populace.

 

 

Nandigram: Communism as fascism – Part II

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the common man doesn’t matter to Communists

 

There were a couple of things the Rediff people edited out, so here’s what I said originally vs. their edited version. They are careful to edit out certain things, and I find their edits are not unreasonable 🙂

original: The Jallianwallah Bagh parallel is obvious: just as agents of a foreign power (Britain) used Indian soldiers to shoot down Indian civilians without mercy, here people who are in effect agents of a foreign power (China) used Indian policemen to shoot down Indian civilians without mercy.

edited: The Jallianwallah Bagh parallel is obvious.

original: A famous comrade woman, who was captured on film after the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight chivvying on the families of the hostages to force the Center to capitulate, was seen after Nandigram forcefully asserting the State’s “right” to kill people!

edited: they dropped “woman” 🙂

original: Which leads the impartial observer to conclude that crony capitalism and Communism go hand-in-hand, and that the comrades have no compunctions about getting their snouts in the pork-barrel of baksheesh from the allegedly hated capitalists. Every rogue has his price, clearly.

edited: Which leads the impartial observer to conclude that crony capitalism and Communism go hand-in-hand.