Saturday, 24 March 2018

The Indian Muslim is dealing with a silent, undeclared psychological war that the State has unleashed on it.

Irena Akbar in The Indian Express

This year, I did not want to serve ‘them’ biryani on Eid. But that is not our ‘tehzeeb’, our culture, my father insisted. So, on June 26, one guest after another – some among them likely BJP voters – visited us and relished the biryani, the qorma, and the kebabs. This, as the image of Junaid haunted me – his body soaked with blood, after he was lynched in front of a silent, complicit crowd of 200 in a train in Delhi.

Our guests on the day of Eid had absolutely nothing to do with what Junaid suffered, and I hate and condemn myself for resenting them. This wasn’t me. This isn’t me. And I wonder at the distance my heart has travelled from exactly a year ago, when I would be filled with excitement at our whole family preparing dishes for our Hindu guests (we have no Muslim guests for Eid as they are busy in their homes). Not too long ago, when I used to work in Delhi, I would sometimes carry a pot of biryani from Lucknow after Eid for my non-Muslim colleagues and friends. The sight of Hindus enjoying Mughlai/Awadhi cuisine at Karim’s in Delhi or Tunday Kababi in Lucknow swelled me with pride at our Ganga-Jamuni culture.

So, why did I now begin to resent a woman with a bindi on her forehead or a man with a kalava tied to his wrist enjoying a kebab at Tunday Kababi? Because I suspect he/she hates me. Hates my people. Hates the Muslim owners and cooks of Tunday even though he/she loves their food. Loves it that they had to shut shop during the crackdown on meat suppliers in UP. Loves it when the business of Muslim butchers is stifled even though he/she buys meat from them. Hates my co-religionists who wear topis and grow beards. Loves it when they are lynched in trains, in the fields, on the highway, inside their homes. Hates women who wear burkhas but pretends to support them on triple talaq. Shares fake videos about ‘evil’ Muslims on WhatsApp. Rejoices at the arrest of 15 Muslims after India’s loss to Pakistan in a cricket match on the basis of a false complaint.

No, I don’t hate them. They hate me. I am only angry they hate me. And I resent them for their hatred towards me. They pretend to fear me and my people, but in reality, it is I, and my people, who fear them. We are 14 per cent, they are close to 80, so we are the ones surrounded by the mob. And I fear that in their hatred, they will support the mob if it lynches yet another Muslim. Or, they will vote for a party that felicitates the killers or those who incite them to such murders by giving them Z-Security or a ticket to contest elections. I dread the plans that such parties may have already drafted for late 2018 or early 2019, a few months before the next general elections. 

These fears are not exaggerated or unfounded. Between Akhlaque in 2015 and Junaid in 2017, each time a Muslim has been lynched in this country, every other Indian Muslim has died a slow death. The death of her confidence in the State which is supposed to protect her but doesn’t, the death of her trust in fellow countrymen who keep voting for the unabashedly anti-Muslim BJP, the death of her will to dispel the fears of the majority, and assure them that she is not the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’, but as Indian or even as human as they are.

I am acutely aware that not every Hindu is a supporter of Hindutva. His vote for the BJP could be based on promises of vikas, or the incompetence of other parties. As a Muslim, I am painfully aware of the pressure of stereotyping. I have lost count of the number of times I have asked non-Muslims to look at me, at their Muslim neighbours, friends and co-workers, at their Muslim tailors, at Muslim actors and filmmakers to clear their misconceptions about us being terror sympathisers.

So, when my mind slips into the realm of stereotyping, I pull it back and look at my Hindu neighbour whose NGO employs underprivileged Muslim women, at my Hindu cook who did not take a single day off during Ramzan and would prepare iftaar for us, at the Hindus who helped me put together an art exhibition I recently curated, at my former Hindu colleagues who supported me when I was going through a rough patch, at my Facebook newsfeed filled with posts by liberal Hindus denouncing cow terrorism, at the writers who returned their awards to protest against Akhlaque’s killing in 2015, at the recent Not In My Name protests triggered by Junaid’s murder.

Citizens hold placards during a silent protest ” Not in My Name ” against the targeted lynching, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (Source: PTI Photo)

The mind of an ordinary Indian Muslim like me is caught in a constant tug-of-war – pulled by fear on one end, and by hope on the other. When my heart sank at the killing of Junaid, a faint glimmer of hope also emerged. The outraged liberal, secular Hindu got out of his social media mode and onto the streets to protest the lynching of Muslims being carried out in his name, under the banner ‘Not In My Name’. It was a reassuring moment for the besieged Indian Muslim, and she wholeheartedly supported it, joining in the protests, much like American Muslims who joined the Whites in the ‘IamMuslim’ protests in the US following Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’.

The next day, the Prime Minister disapproved of killing in the name of the cow. But a few hours later, another Muslim, Alimuddin Ansari, was lynched in the name of the cow in Jharkhand. He was violently thrashed and his face held up in front of the camera — as if it were a trophy — before his killers dealt him the final deathblows. The incident has strengthened the pull of fear against the pull of hope in the mental tug of war for the Muslim.

When a community is alienated and demonised consistently, its members often just retract to their shells. Most Muslims fear expressing themselves freely on social media, and avoid political discussions in offices, RWA meetings and kitty parties, and some are even wary of carrying non-vegetarian food on trains. When we drive past cows roaming the streets of Lucknow, we are careful not to get too close. No, we are not a paranoid family. Other Muslims have expressed similar caution. A Hindu can afford to slouch in his seat if the National Anthem is being played in a cinema hall, but remember how a Muslim family was forced out of a theatre in Mumbai for allegedly doing the same?

The Indian Muslim is dealing with a silent, undeclared psychological war that the State has unleashed on it. This war’s strategy is clear: Demonise the Muslim in the mind of the Hindu in some form or the other – the cow-eater, the ‘love jihadi’ on the prowl for Hindu girls, the anti-national who won’t chant ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, the monstrous husband who divorces his wife via instant triple talaq, the descendant of the ‘rabid anti-Hindu’ ruler Aurangzeb, etc. Use chest-thumping TV anchors and fake videos on WhatsApp to set the discussions for the living rooms of the urban Hindu, or the chaupals of the rural Hindu. The overwhelming majority of Hindus is peace-loving, so it will react by keeping distance from the “horrible Muslims” and vote against “pseudo-secular” parties. But the violent, jobless youth may catch hold of a Muslim farmer, or a young boy wearing a topi, and beat him to death. That these youths are glorified as ‘gau rakshaks’ and not penalised emboldens them.

But cleverly, such murders are not done together at one time and at one place. As Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote in The Indian Express, ‘A big riot would concentrate the mind, make a damning headline. A protracted riot in slow motion, individual victims across different states, simply makes this appear another daily routine.’ Once the Muslim has been demonised, corner him further. Don’t wish him for Eid. Boycott the iftaar held by the President. Shame him for not saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ (sorry, the Urdu ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ doesn’t work), and do politics over yoga-namaaz, Ramzan-Diwali, shamshaanghaat-qabristaan. Send the message loud and clear to the Muslim: ‘You, your vote don’t matter.’ And send the message to the Hindu: ‘Muslims have been finally shown their place after 1,000 years of subjugation of Hindus by Muslim rulers. You have won. You are safe.’

Thus, the mind of the majority, the Hindus, is quietly and successfully diverted from the real issues that matter to them as Indian citizens — development, jobs, investments, ‘achche din’. No chest-thumping TV anchor shouts down panellists over the lack of jobs. Everyone is only talking cows, beef, and triple talaq. The diversionary tactics of the State have also taken away the mind of the Muslim from what matters to him as an Indian citizen – development and jobs. All that matters to the Muslim now is his right to a life of dignity and safety, one that is led without fear. Something the ‘New India’ is snatching away from him.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Should the Big Four accountancy firms be split up?

Natasha Landell-Mills and Jim Peterson in The Financial Times

Yes - Separating audit from consulting would prevent conflicts of interest.

Auditors are failing investors. The situation has become so dire that last week the head of the UK’s accounting watchdog said it was time to consider forcing audit firms to divest their substantial and lucrative consulting work, writes Natasha Landell-Mills. 

This shift from the Financial Reporting Council, which opposed the idea six years ago, is welcome. But breaking up the Big Four accountancy firms — PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte — can only be a first step. Lasting reform depends on auditors working for shareholders, not management. 

Auditors are supposed to underpin trust in financial markets. Major stock markets require listed companies to hire auditors to verify their accounts, providing reassurance to shareholders that material matters have been inspected and their capital is protected. In the UK, auditors must certify that the published numbers give a “true and fair view” of circumstances and income; that they have been prepared in accordance with accounting standards; and that they comply with company law. 

But audit is failing to meet investors’ expectations. The failure of Carillion, linked to aggressive accounting, is just the latest high profile example. And this is not just a UK phenomenon. The International Forum of Independent Audit Regulators found that 40 per cent of the audits it inspected were sub-standard. 

Multiple market failures need to be addressed. The most obvious problem is that audit quality is invisible to those whom it is intended to benefit: the shareholders. It is difficult to differentiate good and bad audits. Even with the introduction of extended auditor reports in the UK (and starting in 2019 in the US), formulaic notes about audit risks often hide more than they convey. 

Even when questions are raised about the quality of audits, shareholders almost always vote to retain auditors, with most receiving at least 95 per cent support. Last year, 97 per cent of Carillion shareholders voted to re-appoint KPMG. Lack of scrutiny creates space for conflicts of interest. Auditors who feel accountable to company executives rather than shareholders will be less likely to challenge them. These conflicts are exacerbated when audit firms also sell other services to management teams, particularly if that consultancy work is more profitable. 

The dominance of the Big Four in large company audits is another concern: when large and powerful firms are able to crowd out high quality competitors, the damage is lasting. 

Taken together, these failures have resulted in a dysfunctional audit market that needs a broad revamp. Splitting audit from consulting would prevent the most insidious conflict of interest. When non-audit work makes up around 80 per cent of fee income for the Big Four (and just over half of income from audit clients), the influence of this part of the business is huge. 

Current limits on consulting work have not eliminated this problem. They are often set too high or can be gamed, while auditors can still be influenced by the hope of winning non-audit work after they relinquish the audit mandate. 

There is quite simply no compelling reason why shareholders should accept these conflicts and the resulting risks to audit quality introduced by non-audit work. But other reforms are necessary. 

Auditors should provide meaningful disclosures about the risks they uncover. They need to verify that company accounts do not overstate performance and capital and that unrealised profits are disclosed. 

Engagement between shareholders and audit committees and auditors should become the norm, not the exception. Shareholders need to scrutinise accounting and audit performance, and use their votes to remove auditors or audit committee directors where performance is substandard. 

Finally, the accounting watchdogs must be far more robust on audit quality and impose meaningful sanctions. Even the best intentioned will struggle against a broken system. 

No — Lopping off advisory services would hurt performance 

The recent spate of large-scale corporate accounting scandals is deeply worrying and raises a familiar question: “Where were the auditors?” But the correct answer does not involve breaking up the four professional services firms that dominate auditing, writes Jim Peterson. 

Forcing Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC to shed their non-audit businesses would neither add competition nor boost smaller competitors. Lopping off the Big Four’s consulting and advisory services would degrade their performance, weaken them financially, and hamper their ability to meet the needs of their clients and the capital markets. 

Although the UK regulator is raising competition concerns, the root problem is global. The growth of the Big Four, operating in more than 100 countries, reflects their multinational clients’ needs for breadth of geographic presence and specialised industry expertise. 

 The yawning gap in size between the Big Four and their smaller peers has long since grown beyond closure: even the smallest, KPMG, took in $26.4bn in 2017, three times as much as BDO, its next nearest competitor. If pressed, risk managers of the smaller firms admit to lacking the skills and the risk tolerance even to consider bidding to audit a far-flung multinational. 

The suggestion that competition and choice would be increased by splitting up the Big Four is doubly unrealistic. Forcing them to spin off their non-auditing business would not create any new auditors. We would continue to see dilemmas like the one faced by BT last year when it set out to replace PwC after a £530m discrepancy was uncovered in the accounts of its Italian division. The UK telecoms group ended up picking KPMG for want of alternatives, even though BT’s chairman had previously been global chairman of KPMG. 

Similarly, Japan’s Toshiba tossed EY in favour of PwC in 2016, only to suffer disagreements with the second firm — this led to delays in its financial statements and an eventual qualified audit report. Wish as it might, Toshiba has no further choices, because of business-based conflicts on the part of Deloitte and KPMG. 

A split by industry sector — say, assigning auditing of banking and technology to Firm A-1, while manufacturing and energy go to new Firm A-2 — would be no better. Each sector would still be served by just four big firms. If each firm were split in half, the two smaller firms would struggle to amass the expertise, personnel and capital necessary to provide the level of service that big companies expect. 

Splitting auditing from advisory work is a solution in search of a problem. Many jurisdictions, including the UK, EU and US, restrict the ability of firms to cross-sell other services to their audit clients. Concerns about inherent conflicts of interest are overblown. 

The enthusiasm for cutting up the Big Four also fails to recognise how the world is changing. The rise of artificial intelligence, blockchain and robotics is reshaping the way information is gathered and verified. Auditors will need more — rather than less — expertise. 

Warehouse inventories, crop yields and wind farms will soon be surveyed rapidly and comprehensively in ways that could easily displace the tedious and partial sampling done for decades by squadrons of young audit staff. But to take advantage of these advances, auditors need to have the scale, the financial strength and the technical skills to develop and offer them. 

These tools will also deliver data that management needs for operational and strategic decision making. If auditors are to be barred from providing this kind of advisory work, the legitimacy of methods that have prevailed since the Victorian era is under threat. Investors will require some sort of audit function, but who would provide it? Splitting up the Big Four will achieve nothing if they fail and are replaced by arms of Amazon and Google. 

Auditors should be held accountable for their mistakes, but these issues are too complex for simplistic solutions. Rather than a quick amputation, we need a full-scale re-engineering of the current model with all of its parts.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Kevin Pietersen

Jonathan Liew in The Independent

At 11am on May 12, 2015, Andrew Strauss was unveiled as the new director of England cricket on the Lord’s balcony, in front of a horseshoe of photographers and camera crews.

At exactly the same time, on the other side of London, Kevin Pietersen was walking out to bat for Surrey against Leicestershire at The Oval, 326 not out overnight. By the time Strauss had finished his first interview with Sky Sports News, explaining why he was extinguishing Pietersen’s last realistic hope of playing international cricket, the man himself had moved on to 351.

It was the first and last triple-century of Pietersen’s career. Scarcely, if ever, has an innings been more auspiciously timed. Scarcely has English cricket’s fundamental duality – between inside and outside, genteel and chaotic, starched shirts and grubby whites, polished words and pure filthy deed – been more starkly depicted.

Above all, it underlined the basic and inalienable Pietersen trait, one that will likely follow him to the grave: his immaculate sense of occasion. Scarcely, if ever, has there been a cricketer who timed his interventions to such devastatingly maximal effect. 

Pietersen finished his timely knock on 355 not out (Getty)

“You’re not God,” he memorably told Yuvraj Singh during the Mohali Test of 2008. “You’re a cricketer. And I’m a better one.”

Here again, on a glorious spring morning in London, Pietersen was once again proving that whatever you had to say, he could – and would – say it louder.


In hindsight, it would have been brilliantly fitting if that scintillating innings of 355 had been Pietersen’s last in first-class cricket: one final, pointless, valedictory V-sign to the English game before he rode into a franchised sunset. But it wasn’t.

Instead, Pietersen’s last ever game in whites came a few weeks later, a rain-ruined draw against Lancashire. He came in at No4, scratched around for a few minutes, and then edged a vicious lifter to slip off Kyle Jarvis for two. The cameras picked him out in the Surrey dressing room, his gaze drawn to the England v New Zealand Test match on television rather than the drab game unfolding in front of him. Right to the very last, Pietersen never bothered to disguise his disdain for the domestic game, its mixed standard, its modest horizons, what he called the “county cricketcomfort zone”. 

And so, with England turning its back on Pietersen, Pietersen turned his back on England, spending the last three years of his career travelling the world playing Twenty20. St Lucia Zouks, Dolphins, Melbourne Stars, Quetta Gladiators, Rising Pune Supergiants, Surrey: over time, they all began to blend into each other, the same adoring crowds, the same airport departure lounges, the same arcade game of thrill or bust.

You might almost say Pietersen found his own comfort zone in the end.

By the end of the professional career he finally brought to an end this week, he was a good T20 player, not a great one. The rapidly evolving format was beginning to leave him behind. His low dot-ball percentage, traditionally one of his biggest strengths, was beginning to creep up. Pune, his Indian Premier League franchise, released him at the end of 2016 and with little interest ahead of the 2017 auction, Pietersen decided to pre-emptively withdraw rather than risk the humiliation of going unsold.

Weirdly, T20 always seemed an imperfect fit for Pietersen’s remarkable and cadenced range of talents. Yes: like many others, he could belt it miles, and belt it often. But unlike them, he could also do it for hours, for days, and often after doing very little of note for months. Test cricket, with its epic scope, its wild fluctuations in texture and tempo, was always the most appropriate stage for him. He knew it, too. When he was on song, Pietersen could play as loudly as anyone who has picked up a bat. But somehow, it was the quietness that made it so devastating.

Most remarkably, Pietersen never won any of the franchise competitions he competed in: not the Big Bash or the IPL, not the Caribbean Premier League or the Blast, not the Ram Slam or the PSL. Here, perhaps, lies the greatest irony of all. Pietersen’s only winner’s medal in the format where he eventually focused his energies came in England blue, at the World Twenty20 in 2010. His only triumph was also ours.

For all the bad blood and the rancour, all the fraught meetings and snide briefings, the knives in the back and the knives in the front, the essential truth about Pietersen and England was this: they were stronger together, and weaker apart. 

You don’t need me to talk you through Pietersen’s greatest innings for England. You know them already: the 202 and the 186, the 149 and the 227, the 91 off 65, the 158, the 158, the 158. But the innings Pietersen always rated as his greatest was the 151 he made against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2012, in 45 degree heat and 100 per cent humidity, with a bat that was slipping in his gloves, a haze so intense it was blurring his vision.

As he swept, clubbed and reverse-swept Sri Lanka’s spinners all around the wicket, an intense serenity, an invincible quiet, seemed to settle over him. As he would later write in his book ‘On Cricket’, the Colombo knock stands out because unlike so many other of his great innings there was nothing flamboyant or bellicose about it: just pure, blissful batting. So much of Pietersen’s England career felt like war. This felt like peace. 

Pietersen played brilliantly against Sri Lanka in Colombo (Getty)

Great art has dreadful manners, as Simon Schama puts it. Perhaps the same applies to great sport: it slaps you around the face, kicks you in the groin, demands that you acclaim it. That was as true of Pietersen off the field as it was on it. Having left home as a teenage off-spinner and fought his way to the very top of the game, he was ruthlessly intolerant of anybody who didn’t share his fierce work ethic and relentless standards.

He never really understood the point of county cricket. He never really learned to hold his tongue and keep his opinions to himself. This was Pietersen’s way – the natural product of a tough Afrikaner childhood in which even the most minor indiscipline would be punished with a swipe of his farmer’s “army stick” – and you could get in line, or you could go to hell.

English cricket – and England in general – is not quite as tolerant and broad-minded as it likes to think it is. The frequent refrain you will hear about Pietersen is that he falls out with people everywhere he goes. The implication, that Pietersen is an inveterate troublemaker who could start a fight in an empty room, is only really part of the story. Pietersen’s unapologetic ‘otherness’ made him as much a target as a protagonist.  

Strauss remembers his first encounter with Pietersen, a county game between Middlesex and Nottinghamshire in 2000. As soon as he arrived at the crease, the Middlesex wicket-keeper David Nash began to single out the young newcomer for abuse. Instead of simply ignoring it, Pietersen marched to the square-leg umpire and demanded he put a stop to it. The insult Nash kept using to Pietersen was “doos”.

And ultimately, Pietersen was English cricket’s ultimate outsider: by turns painfully awkward, wracked by self-doubt, beguiled by attention and yet capable of great generosity. As his final first-class game petered out at The Oval, Pietersen ventured unbidden out of the dressing room to sign hundreds of autographs for young fans on the boundary edge: not a TV camera or a PR enabler in sight, just a star and his adoring public, each getting exactly what they wanted.

Pietersen’s relationship with the England team was similarly transactional. It is fashionable to lament those lost years after the 2013-14 Ashes, decry the bitter rift that his sacking opened up within the game, chastise the ECB for their lack of indulgence. But ultimately, they got almost a decade of service out of a brilliant player who helped them win four Ashes series, an India tour and a global tournament. When they had had enough, they simply discarded him. The regime survived. The edifice remained intact.

They won. 

Strauss called an end to Pietersen’s England career (Getty)

What of Pietersen? He got to play a game he loved for two decades. He got to travel the world. He won caps, broke records. He got to captain his country and thrill millions. His determination to grasp the opportunities offered by franchise T20 and unwillingness to compromise on his attacking, confrontational approach cost him his career, but virtually everything the ECB has done since is a tacit admission that he was right all along.

Pietersen won, too.

“It’s your nation, not mine,” Pietersen once quipped to a British interview in a magazine interview. And it is no surprise, really, that as his relationship with the English game began to unravel, he began to seek refuge in the supranational: his wildlife projects, his family, his social media sycophants, the golden fist bump of the global T20 community. Ultimately, Pietersen and English cricket were too different in temperament and culture ever to be more than a fleeting entanglement.

The miracle, really, is that they managed to keep the show on the road for so long. And as the dust finally settles, as time breathes its heavy sigh on one of the great England careers, perhaps that will ultimately be Pietersen’s epitaph. When it all came together, nothing on earth could compare. Remember him that way, not the way it ended.

EU tickled pink as Brexit red lines turn green

John Crace in The Guardian

“Je suis très heureux,” Michel Barnier began. It soon became clear why he was so heureux as the text of the draft transitional agreement appeared on a screen behind him during his Brussels press conference with David Davis. Large chunks of it were highlighted in green. These were Theresa May’s red lines. Green was now the new red.

The British prime minister had been right in insisting that large sections of the Brexit deal would be non-negotiable. She just hadn’t made it clear that it would be the EU that was refusing to negotiate. So on almost every point that Britain had said it wouldn’t be giving in, it had given in.

Barnier made a token effort to sound as if he wasn’t crowing that British objections to money, trade negotiations, the European court of justice, fishing rights and the length of the transitional deal had all been casually brushed aside. But when you are as heureux as he is then it’s hard to keep a straight visage.

Not that everything was done and dusted, the EU chief negotiator continued. Mais non! There was still 25% of the draft agreement that wasn’t green. These were the bits that were in yellow and white. The yellow areas were the red lines that the British government couldn’t quite yet bring itself to turn green but would probably do so in the next couple of weeks.

The white areas were slightly more problematic. These were the red lines – principally over Northern Ireland – the British government knew it would eventually have to turn green, but as yet had no clear idea of how to do so without every Brexiter in the Tory party having a complete meltdown about being sold out.

But this wasn’t his problem, because in the absence of the white lines turning green then the backstop was to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market. In other words, business comme d’habitude.

Or no business comme d’habitude as there was next to no chance of Britain reaching any of the 750 new trade deals it needed to get done in a couple of months. Not least when the EU was committed to a go-slow on its own negotiations. Bonne chance avec that. If Britain wanted to turn itself from a rule giver to a rule taker then it was no peau off his nez. No wonder Barnier was heureux as Larry.

Davis wasn’t nearly so heureux, though he tried to look as if he was. His fixed grin looked suspiciously like rigor mortis. He too declared himself to be thrilled so many of the red lines had turned green and looked forward to making all the necessary concessions to turn the yellow and white ones green. People just had to understand that Brexit was a simple dialectic. To take back control you had to give back control. To get a transition period you needed a standstill.

The longer the Brexit secretary spoke, the more miserable he appeared. There are limits even to his self-delusion. Britain had got nearly everything it had asked for, he said unconvincingly. Take the transition period. The UK had asked for two years ending in March 2021 and the EU had argued for December 2020. So they had compromised at December 2020. As for Northern Ireland, he really didn’t have a clue. Only that in some lights at certain times of day, red could sometimes look a bit green.

Why had the EU and the UK chosen to highlight the agreed sections in green and not some other colour, a reporter asked. By now Davis was catatonically unheureux, so it was Barnier who replied. He would have been happy with bleu, blanc or rouge but every time he tried writing something in rouge the British kept turning it vert. And anyway he quite liked vert. Besides, green was the perfect description of the British negotiating team.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The runaway locomotive of Electronic Voting Machines

Tabish Khair in The Hindu

It happened in December 1841 near Reading, England. A Great Western Railway luggage train travelling from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads station had just entered Sonning Cutting. Rain had loosened the soil next to the track, which had caused mud to spill on to the track and cover it. This forced the broad gauge locomotive, containing three third-class passenger carriages and some heavy goods wagons, to derail. Eight passengers died on the spot and many were seriously injured. One passenger died later in hospital.

The tragedy set in process a largely unremarked legal change: it led to the abolishment of ‘deodands’. Deodands were penalties imposed on ‘moving objects that caused deaths’. After the Sonning Cutting accident, a deodand of £1,000 (about £100,000 today) was imposed on the train engine. This was, however, never paid (how could it be?), and five years later deodands were abolished.

From our perspective, this marks a significant change: from objects associated and controlled by humans to objects with much more leverage of their own. From a dropped box or a mismanaged horse carriage to a derailed engine. In 1841, deodands existed in a world that had changed. Trains marked not just the increase of pace while travelling, they also enabled a kind of tragedy which was difficult to imagine in an age of horses: now dozens, soon hundreds, of bodies could be mangled in a single accident. Blame for a derailed engine was a different matter than blame for a brick dropped from a window or an overturned carriage.

An opportunity and a danger

I start with this example to highlight the obvious fact that all technological developments come with some advantages and dangers. A society that ignores the former for the latter stays stuck in time, but a society that ignores the latter for the former might well plunge down a precipice.

Electronic voting machines represent such an opportunity — and danger. But because too much capital is invested in selling and replicating these systems, the opportunities and advantages are currently drummed up more than the dangers. Electronic voting machines have been accused of advertent or inadvertent ‘flaws’ in many countries, including India. But governments argue that some malfunctioning is inevitable when we use voting systems in vast lands with great educational disparity.

But let us talk about Denmark. Denmark is an egalitarian country of only six million people, all of whom receive basically the same kind of education until high school, and can choose to go to university free of charge. It has a high literacy rate and its politicians are at least theoretically more accountable than those of India or the U.S. It also has a high voting percentage.

And yet, recently, a small controversy erupted in Denmark. The fact that it is only a small controversy is frightening — because it has to do with the very nature of democracy, and Danes are a proudly democratic people. The largely neo-liberal government of Denmark decided to put the partly electronic voting system of Denmark up for a bid between rival companies. Three companies applied, including the public-owned company that has provided these services in the past. Then the government lowered the maximum bid amount. This forced two of the companies — including the public-owned one — to withdraw. The single company that stayed in the fray could submit a cheaper offer because it already runs similar voting systems in a number of countries — where the system has been accused of malfunction or vulnerability to tinkering.

As this was a private corporation, questions were asked in the Danish Parliament about its ownership. The Parliament was wrongly assured by a minister that it was a Danish company. When the major Danish daily, Politiken, traced the company’s head office to a tax-haven island off South America, the government promised more information.

Who are the owners?

But in the process, a vital factor seems to have been overlooked — not just by members of the Danish government, which is not surprising, but also by many of its critics. It is this: the island on which the company is registered permits companies not to disclose their ownership. In other words, the Danish voting system might be produced by a company whose real owners are invisible. Surely, there is something seriously wrong about the increasing vulnerability of democracies to the digitalised chicanery of invisible or half-visible corporate owners? Surely it is legitimate for citizens to demand to know the real owners of such companies? For instance, would a company controlled by the Russian mafia or the Koch brothers of the U.S., with their history of lobbied interference in democratic matters, be a neutral player and a reliable service provider?

As trains came into being, not only were ineffective laws, like that of deodands, remade or abandoned, new laws were put in place to ensure safety and accountability. Today, with the locomotive of digitalisation rushing at us, we largely lack a concerted effort to protect democracy against its dangers. Electronic voting systems need far greater scrutiny that those who are singing the siren songs of ‘progress and digitalisation’ want us to realise. It is time to plug our ears, and ask some hard questions — in every country of the world.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The crisis in modern masculinity

Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian

On the evening of 30 January 1948, five months after the independence and partition of India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was walking to a prayer meeting at his temporary home in New Delhi when he was shot three times, at point-blank range. He collapsed and died instantly. His assassin, originally feared to be Muslim, turned out to be Nathuram Godse, a Hindu Brahmin from western India. Godse, who made no attempt to escape, said in court that he felt compelled to kill Gandhi since the leader with his womanly politics was emasculating the Hindu nation – in particular, with his generosity to Muslims. Godse is a hero today in an India utterly transformed by Hindu chauvinists – an India in which Mein Kampf is a bestseller, a political movement inspired by European fascists dominates politics and culture, and Narendra Modi, a Hindu supremacist accused of mass murder, is prime minister. For all his talk of Hindu genius, Godse flagrantly plagiarised the fictions of European ethnic-racial chauvinists and imperialists. For the first years of his life he was raised as a girl, with a nose ring, and later tried to gain a hard-edged masculine identity through Hindu supremacism. Yet for many struggling young Indians today Godse represents, along with Adolf Hitler, a triumphantly realised individual and national manhood.

The moral prestige of Gandhi’s murderer is only one sign among many of what seems to be a global crisis of masculinity. Luridly retro ideas of what it means to be a strong man have gone mainstream even in so-called advanced nations. In January Jordan B Peterson, a Canadian self-help writer who laments that “the west has lost faith in masculinity” and denounces the “murderous equity doctrine” espoused by women, was hailed in the New York Times as “the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now”.

 ‘The west has lost faith in masculinity’ … self-help writer Jordan Peterson. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

This is, hopefully, an exaggeration. It is arguable, however, that a frenetic pursuit of masculinity has characterised public life in the west since 9/11; and it presaged the serial-groping president who boasts of his big penis and nuclear button. “From the ashes of September 11,” the Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan exulted a few weeks after the attack, “arise the manly virtues.” Noonan, who today admires Peterson’s “tough” talk, hailed the re-emergence of “masculine men, men who push things and pull things”, such as George W Bush, who she half expected to “tear open his shirt and reveal the big ‘S’ on his chest”. Such gush, commonplace at the time, helped Bush, who had initially gone missing in action on 11 September, reinvent himself as a dashing commander-in-chief (and grow cocky enough to dress up as a fighter pilot and compliment Tony Blair’s “cojones”).

Amid this rush of testosterone in the Anglo-American establishment, many deskbound journalists fancied themselves as unflinching warriors. “We will,” David Brooks, another of Peterson’s fans, vowed, “destroy innocent villages by accident, shrug our shoulders and continue fighting.”

As manly virtues arose, attacks on women, and feminists in particular, in the west became nearly as fierce as the wars waged abroad to rescue Muslim damsels in distress. In Manliness (2006) Harvey Mansfield, a political philosopher at Harvard, denounced working women for undermining the protective role of men. The historian Niall Ferguson, a self-declared neo-imperialist, bemoaned that “girls no longer play with dolls” and that feminists have forced Europe into demographic decline. More revealingly, the few women publicly critical of the bellicosity, such as Katha Pollitt, Susan Sontag and Arundhati Roy, were “mounted on poles for public whipping” and flogged, Barbara Kingsolver wrote, with “words like bitch and airhead and moron and silly”. At the same time, Vanity Fair’s photo essay on the Bush administration at war commended the president for his masculine sangfroid and hailed his deputy, Dick Cheney, as “The Rock”.

Psychotic masculinity can be seen everywhere from ISIS to mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who claimed Viking ancestry

Some of this post-9/11 cocksmanship was no doubt provoked by Osama bin Laden’s slurs about American manhood: that the free and the brave had gone “soft” and “weak”. Humiliation in Vietnam similarly brought forth such cartoon visions of masculinity as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is also true that historically privileged men tend to be profoundly disturbed by perceived competition from women, gay people and diverse ethnic and religious groups. In Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle (1990) Elaine Showalter described the great terror induced among many men by the very modest gains of feminists in the late 19th century: “fears of regression and degeneration, the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class and nationality”.

In the 1950s, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr was already warning of the “expanding, aggressive force” of women, “seizing new domains like a conquering army”. Exasperated by the “castrated” American male and his “feminine fascination for the downtrodden”, Schlesinger, the original exponent of muscular liberalism, longed for the “frontiersmen” of American history who “were men, and it did not occur to them to think twice about it”.

These majestically male makers of the modern west are being forced to think twice about a lot today. Gay men and women are freer than before to love whom they love, and to marry them. Women expect greater self-fulfilment in the workplace, at home and in bed. Trump may have the biggest nuclear button, but China leads in artificial intelligence as well as old-style mass manufacturing. And technology and automation threaten to render obsolete the men who push and pull things – most damagingly in the west.

Many straight white men feel besieged by “uppity” Chinese and Indian people, by Muslims and feminists, not to mention gay bodybuilders, butch women and trans people. Not surprisingly they are susceptible to Peterson’s notion that the ostensible destruction of “the traditional household division of labour” has led to “chaos”. This fear and insecurity of a male minority has spiralled into a politics of hysteria in the two dominant imperial powers of the modern era. In Britain, the aloof and stiff upper-lipped English gentleman, that epitome of controlled imperial power, has given way to such verbally incontinent Brexiters as Boris Johnson. The rightwing journalist Douglas Murray, among many elegists of English manhood, deplores “emasculated Italians, Europeans and westerners in general” and esteems Trump for “reminding the west of what is great about ourselves”. And, indeed, whether threatening North Korea with nuclear incineration, belittling people with disabilities or groping women, the American president confirms that some winners of modern history will do anything to shore up their sense of entitlement.

 Rear-guard machismo … Vladimir Putin on holiday in southern Siberia in 2009. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images

But gaudy displays of brute manliness in the west, and frenzied loathing of what the alt-rightists call “cucks” and “cultural Marxists”, are not merely a reaction to insolent former weaklings. Such manic assertions of hyper-masculinity have recurred in modern history. They have also profoundly shaped politics and culture in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Osama bin Laden believed that Muslims “have been deprived of their manhood” and could recover it by obliterating the phallic symbols of American power. Beheading and raping innocent captives in the name of the caliphate, the black-hooded young volunteers of Islamic State were as obviously a case of psychotic masculinity as the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who claimed Viking warriors as his ancestors. Last month, the Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte told female rebels in his country that “We will not kill you. We will just shoot you in the vagina.” Tormenting hapless minorities, India’s Hindu supremacist chieftains seem obsessed with proving, as one asserted after India’s nuclear tests in 1998, “we are not eunuchs any more”.

Morbid visions of castration and emasculation, civilisational decline and decay, connect Godse and Schlesinger to Bin Laden and Trump, and many other exponents of a rear-guard machismo today. They are susceptible to cliched metaphors of “soft” and “passive” femininity, “hard” and “active” masculinity; they are nostalgic for a time when men did not have to think twice about being men. And whether Hindu chauvinist, radical Islamist or white nationalist, their self-image depends on despising and excluding women. It is as though the fantasy of male strength measures itself most gratifyingly against the fantasy of female weakness. Equating women with impotence and seized by panic about becoming cucks, these rancorously angry men are symptoms of an endemic and seemingly unresolvable crisis of masculinity.

When did this crisis begin? And why does it seem so inescapably global? Writing Age of Anger: A History of the Present, I began to think that a perpetual crisis stalks the modern world. It began in the 19th century, with the most radical shift in human history: the replacement of agrarian and rural societies by a volatile socio-economic order, which, defined by industrial capitalism, came to be rigidly organised through new sexual and racial divisions of labour. And the crisis seems universal today because a web of restrictive gender norms, spun in modernising western Europe and America, has come to cover the remotest corners of the earth as they undergo their own socio-economic revolutions.

There were always many ways of being a man or a woman. Anthropologists and historians of the world’s astonishingly diverse pre-industrial societies have consistently revealed that there is no clear link between biological makeup and behaviour, no connection between masculinity and vigorous men, or femininity and passive women. Indians, British colonialists were disgusted to find, revered belligerent and sexually voracious goddesses, such as Kali; their heroes were flute-playing idlers such as Krishna. A vast Indian literature attests to mutably gendered men and women, elite as well as folk traditions of androgyny and same-sex eroticism.

These unselfconscious traditions began to come under unprecedented assault in the 19th century, when societies constituted by exploitation and exclusion, and stratified along gender and racial lines, emerged as the world’s most powerful; and when such profound shocks of modernity as nation-building, rural-urban migration, imperial expansion and industrialisation drastically changed all modes of human perception. A hierarchy of manly and unmanly human beings had long existed in many societies without being central in them. During the 19th century, it came to be universally imposed, with men and women straitjacketed into specific roles.

 ‘In the 19th century, the ideal of a strong, fearless manhood came to be embodied in muscular selves, nations, empires and races’

The modern west appears, in the western supremacist version of history, as the guarantor of equality and liberty to all. In actuality, a notion of gender (and racial) inequality, grounded in biological difference, was, as Joan Wallach Scott demonstrates in her recent book Sex and Secularism, nothing less than “the social foundation of modern western nation-states”. Immanuel Kant dismissed women as incapable of practical reason, individual autonomy, objectivity, courage and strength. Napoleon, the child of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, believed women ought to stay at home and procreate; his Napoleonic Code, which inspired state laws across the world, notoriously subordinated women to their fathers and husbands. Thomas Jefferson, America’s founding father, commended women, “who have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all other” and who are “too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics”. Such prejudices helped replace traditional patriarchy with the exclusionary ideals of masculinity as the modern world came into being.

On such grounds, women were denied political participation and forced into subordinate roles in the family and the labour market. Pop psychologists periodically insist that men are from Mars and women from Venus, lamenting the loss of what Peterson calls “traditional” divisions of labour, without acknowledging that capitalist, industrial and expansionist societies required a fresh division of labour, or that the straight white men who supervised them deemed women unfit, due to their physical or intellectual inferiority, to undertake territorial aggrandisement, nation-building, industrial production, international trade, and scientific innovation. Women’s bodies were meant to reproduce and safeguard the future of the family, race and nation; men’s were supposed to labour and fight. To be a “mature” man was to adjust oneself to society and fulfil one’s responsibility as breadwinner, father and soldier. “When men fear work or fear righteous war,” as Theodore Roosevelt put it, “when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom.” As the 19th century progressed, many such cultural assumptions about male and female identity morphed into timeless truths. They are, as Peterson’s rowdy fan club reveals, more vigorously upheld today than the “truths” of racial inequality, which were also simultaneously grounded in “nature”, or pseudo-biology.

Scott points out that the modes of sexual difference defined in the modernising west actually helped secure, “the racial superiority of western nations to their ‘others’ – in Africa, Asia, and Latin America”. “White skin was associated with ‘normal’ gender systems, dark skin with immaturity and perversity.” Thus, the British judged their Kali-worshipping Indian subjects to be an unmanly and childish people who ought not to wrinkle their foreheads with ideas of self-rule. The Chinese were widely seen, including in western Chinatowns, as pigtailed cowards. Even Muslims, Christendom’s formidable old rivals, came to be derided as pitiably “feminine” during the high noon of imperialism.

Gandhi explicitly subverted these gendered prejudices of European imperialists (and their Hindu imitators): that femininity was the absence of masculinity. Rejecting the western identification of rulers with male supremacy and subjecthood with feminine submissiveness, he offered an activist politics based on rigorous self-examination and maternal tenderness. This rejection eventually cost him his life. But he could see how much the male will to power was fed by a fantasy of the female other as a regressive being – someone to be subdued and dominated – and how much this pathology had infected modern politics and culture.

As Hindu nationalisation got into gear, formerly chubby Bollywood stars began to flaunt bulging biceps

Its most insidious expression was the conquest and exploitation of people deemed feminine, and, therefore, less than human – a violence that became normalised in the 19th century. For many Europeans and Americans, to be a true man was to be an ardent imperialist and nationalist. Even so clear-sighted a figure as Alexis de Tocqueville longed for his French male compatriots to realise their “warlike” and “virile” nature in crushing Arabs in north Africa, leaving women to deal with the petty concerns of domestic life.

As the century progressed, the quest for virility distilled a widespread response among men psychically battered by such uncontrollable and emasculating phenomena as industrialisation, urbanisation and mechanisation. The ideal of a strong, fearless manhood came to be embodied in muscular selves, nations, empires and races. Living up to this daunting ideal required eradicating all traces of feminine timidity and childishness. Failure incited self-loathing – and a craving for regenerative violence. Mocked with such unmanly epithets as “weakling” and “Oscar Wilde”, Roosevelt tried to overcome, Gore Vidal once pointed out, “his physical fragility through ‘manly’ activities of which the most exciting and ennobling was war”. It is no coincidence that the loathing of homosexuals, and the hunt for sacrificial victims such as Wilde, was never more vicious and organized than during this most intense phase of European imperialism.

One image came to be central to all attempts to recuperate the lost manhood of self and nation: the invincible body, represented in our own age of extremes by steroid-juiced, knobbly musculature. Actually, size matters today much less than it ever did; not many muscles are required for increasingly sedentary work habits and lifestyles. Nevertheless, an obsession with raw brawn and sheer mass still shapes political cultures. Trump’s boasts about the size of his body parts were preceded by Vladimir Putin’s displays of his pectorals – advertisements for a Russia re-masculinised after its emasculation by Boris Yeltsin, a flabby drunk. But shirtless hunks are also a striking recent phenomenon in Godse’s “rising” India. In the 90s, just as India’s Hindu nationalisation got into gear, formerly scrawny or chubby Bollywood stars began to flaunt glisteningly hard abs and bulging biceps; Rama, the lean-limbed hero of the Ramayana, started to resemble Rambo in calendar art and political posters. These buffed-up bodies of popular culture foreshadowed Modi, who rose to power boasting of his 56-inch chest, and promising true national potency to young unemployed stragglers.

This vengeful masculinist nationalism was the original creation of Germans in the early 19th century, who first outlined a vision of creating a superbly fit people or master race and fervently embraced such typically modern forms of physical exercise as gymnastics, callisthenics and yoga and fads like nudism. But pumped-up anatomy emerged as a “natural” embodiment of the evidently exclusive male virtue of strength only as the century ended. As societies across the west became more industrial, urban and bureaucratic, property-owning farmers and self-employed artisans rapidly turned into faceless office workers and professionals. With “rational calculation” installed as the new deity, “each man”, Max Weber warned in 1909, “becomes a little cog in the machine”, pathetically obsessed with becoming “a bigger cog”. Increasingly deprived of their old skills and autonomy in the iron cage of modernity, working class men tried to secure their dignity by embodying it in bulky brawn.

 India’s prime minister Narendra Modi rose to power boasting of his 56-inch chest, and promising true national potency. Photograph: Danish Ismail/Reuters

Historians have emphasised how male workers, humiliated by such repressive industrial practices as automation and time management, also began to assert their manhood by swearing, drinking and sexually harassing the few women in the workforce – the beginning of an aggressive hardhat culture that has reached deep into blue-collar workplaces during the decades-long reign of neoliberalism. Towards the end of the 19th century large numbers of men embraced sports and physical fitness, and launched fan clubs of pugnacious footballers and boxers.

It wasn’t just working men. Upper-class parents in America and Britain had begun to send their sons to boarding schools in the hope that their bodies and moral characters would be suitably toughened up in the absence of corrupting feminine influences. Competitive sports, which were first organised in the second half of the 19th century, became a much-favoured means of pre-empting sissiness – and of mass-producing virile imperialists. It was widely believed that putative empire-builders would be too exhausted by their exertions on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow to masturbate.

But masculinity, a dream of power, tends to get more elusive the more intensely it is pursued; and the dread of emasculation by opaque economic, political and social forces continued to deepen. It drove many fin de siècle writers as well as politicians in Europe and the US into hyper-masculine trances of racial nationalism – and, eventually, the calamity of the first world war. Nations and races as well as individuals were conceptualised as biological entities, which could be honed into unassailable organisms. Fear of “race suicide”, cults of physical education and daydreams of a “New Man” went global, along with strictures against masturbation, as the inflexible modern ideology of gender difference reached non-western societies.

European colonialists went on to impose laws that enshrined their virulent homophobia and promoted heterosexual conjugality and patrilineal orders. Their prejudices were also entrenched outside the west by the victims of what the Indian critic Ashis Nandy calls “internal colonialism”: those subjects of European empires who pleaded guilty to the accusation that they were effeminate, and who decided to man up in order to catch up with their white overlords.

This accounts for a startling and still little explored phenomenon: how men within all major religious communities – Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish as well as Christian and Islamic – started in the late 19th century to simultaneously bemoan their lost virility and urge the creation of hard, inviolable bodies, whether of individual men, the nation or the umma. These included early Zionists (Max Nordau, who dreamed of Muskeljudentum, “Jewry of Muscle”), Asian anti-imperialists (Swami Vivekananda, Modi’s hero, who exhorted Hindus to build “biceps”, and Anagarika Dharmapala, who helped develop the muscular Buddhism being horribly flexed by Myanmar’s ethnic-cleansers these days) as well as fanatical imperialists such as Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement.

The most lethal consequences of this mimic machismo unfolded in the first decades of the 20th century. “Never before and never afterwards”, as historian George Mosse, the pioneering historian of masculinity, wrote, “has masculinity been elevated to such heights as during fascism”. Mussolini, like Roosevelt, transformed himself from a sissy into a fire-breathing imperialist. “The weak must be hammered away,” declared Hitler, another physically ill-favoured fascist. Such wannabe members of the Aryan master race accordingly defined themselves against the cowardly Jew and discovered themselves as men of steel in acts of mass murder.

This hunt for manliness continues to contaminate politics and culture across the world in the 21st century. Rapid economic, social and technological change in our own time has plunged an exponentially larger number of uprooted and bewildered men into a doomed quest for masculine certainties. The scope for old-style imperialist aggrandisement and forging a master race may have diminished. But there are, in the age of neoliberal individualism, infinitely more unrealised claims to masculine identity in grotesquely unequal societies around the world. Myths of the self-made man have forced men everywhere into a relentless and often futile hunt for individual power and wealth, in which they imagine women and members of minorities as competitors. Many more men try to degrade and exclude women in their attempt to show some mastery that is supposed to inhere in their biological nature.

Fear of femini​z​sation​​ has driven demagogic movements like that unleashed by the locker room bully in the White House

Frustration and fear of feminisation have helped boost demagogic movements similar to the one unleashed by the locker room bully in the White House. Godse’s hyper-masculine cliches have vanquished the traditions of androgyny that Gandhi upheld – and not just in India. Young Pakistani men revere the playboy-turned-politician Imran Khan as their alpha male redeemer; they turn viciously on critics of his indiscretions. Similarly embodying a triumphant masculinity in the eyes of his followers, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can do no wrong. Rodrigo Duterte jokes, with brazen frequency, about rape.

Misogyny now flourishes in the public sphere because, as in modernising Europe and America, many toilers daydream of a primordial past when real men were on top, and women knew their place. Loathing of “liberated” women who seem to be usurping male domains is evident not only on social media but also in brutal physical assaults. These are sanctioned by pseudo-traditional ideologies such as Hindu supremacism and Islamic fundamentalism that offer to many thwarted men in Asia and Africa a redeeming machismo: the gratifying replacement of neoliberalism’s bogus promise of equal opportunity with old-style patriarchy.

Susan Faludi argues that many Americans used the 9/11 attacks to shrink the gains of feminism and push women back into passive roles. Peterson’s traditionalism is the latest of many attempts in the west in recent years to restore the authority of men, or to remasculinise society. These include the deployment of “shock-and-awe” violence, loathing of cucks, cultural Marxists and feminists, re-imagining a silver-spooned posturer like Bush as superman, and, finally, the political apotheosis of a serial groper.

This recurrent search for security in coarse manhood confirms that the history of modern masculinity is the history of a fantasy. It describes the doomed quest for a stable and ordered world that entails nothing less than war on the irrepressible plurality of human existence – a war that is periodically renewed despite its devastating failures. An outlandish phobia of women and effeminacy may be hardwired into the long social, political and cultural dominance of men. It could be that their wounded sense of entitlement, or resentment over being denied their customary claim to power and privilege, will continue to make many men vulnerable to such vendors of faux masculinity as Trump and Modi. A compassionate analysis of their rage and despair, however, would conclude that men are as much imprisoned by man-made gender norms as women.

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” wrote Simone de Beauvoir. She might as well have said the same for men. “It is civilisation as a whole that produces such a creature.” And forces him into a ruinous pursuit of power. Compared with women, men are almost everywhere more exposed to alcoholism, drug addiction, serious accidents and cardiovascular disease; they have significantly lower life expectancies and are more likely to kill themselves. The first victims of the quest for a mythical male potency are arguably men themselves, whether in school playgrounds, offices, prisons or battlefields. This everyday experience of fear and trauma binds them to women in more ways than most men, trapped by myths of resolute manhood, tend to acknowledge.

Certainly, men would waste this latest crisis of masculinity if they deny or underplay the experience of vulnerability they share with women on a planet that is itself endangered. Masculine power will always remain maddeningly elusive, prone to periodic crises, breakdowns and panicky reassertions. It is an unfulfillable ideal, a hallucination of command and control, and an illusion of mastery, in a world where all that is solid melts into thin air, and where even the ostensibly powerful are haunted by the spectre of loss and displacement. As a straitjacket of onerous roles and impossible expectations, masculinity has become a source of great suffering – for men as much as women. To understand this is not only to grasp its global crisis today. It is also to sight one possibility of resolving the crisis: a release from the absurd but crippling fear that one has not been man enough.

This is how to curb Putin: stop welcoming Russian kleptocrats

Margaret Hodge in The Guardian

The Telegraph - Matt cartoons

The monstrous attempted murders in Salisbury, allegedly authorised by the Russian state, were shocking. Expelling diplomats, limiting attendance at the World Cup, and orchestrating international condemnation through the UN and Nato are good symbolic gestures. But they will not stop Russian state-inspired terrorism taking place in the UK.

Wouldn’t it be far more effective to clamp down on Russian use of Britain as a safe haven for illegal wealth? Britain has become the jurisdiction of choice for kleptocrats, crooks and money launderers – including Russians – because of our weak regulatory framework, shrouded in secrecy and very lightly policed.

Our historic reputation for integrity and trustworthiness is being undermined by the rapid growth of illicit wealth that is brought into or through the UK and its tax havens. The National Crime Agency estimates that £90bn of criminal money is laundered through the UK each year. That is 4% of the UK’s GDP – and the estimate is probably conservative.

Much of the money goes into buying UK properties. Global Witness claims 85,000 properties across the UK are owned by companies that are incorporated in UK tax havens. According to Transparency International, almost one in 10 of the properties in the City of Westminster are owned by companies registered in an offshore jurisdiction. Many of the houses are bought and then left to lie empty; Indeed, Kensington and Chelsea’s electoral roll has declined by 8% since 2010, while the UK as a whole has experienced a 3% increase in its electorate over the same period. So who is buying homes in the borough, and why are they leaving them empty?

Britain has always been open and welcoming, and there are many people from other countries who want to come and live here for good reasons who make a great contribution to our society. But we need to know that those buying our houses are doing so for legitimate reasons, and with clean money.

In 2015, David Cameron promised to introduce a register detailing the beneficial owner of all UK properties. But the government has just announced this will not happen before 2021. If we really want to stop corrupt money – from Russia and elsewhere – being used to acquire British homes the government could implement Cameron’s undertaking immediately. And it should strengthen the checks and balances on company formation: the laxness of current rules makes it too easy for crooks to set up corporate entities through which they might launder money.

Consider Scottish limited partnerships. These were created in 1907 to help Scottish farmers invest in their land but limit their liability. But when you set one up, you are not required to name an actual person as a partner: you simply cite a company, often located in a tax haven. The reporting requirements for Scottish partnerships are minimal: there is no need to file accounts at Companies House, no requirement to have a UK bank account, and no need to pay UK tax.

This allows the creation of anonymous and untraceable entities for potentially laundered money. Unsurprisingly, there was a 430% increase in the creation of Scottish limited partnerships between 2007 and 2016. In 2016 alone, 94% of the new partnerships were set up by corporate partners, and more than seven out of 10 of these were based in tax havens.

Last year the government required newly formed partnerships to register the names of the person with significant control in a company. A quarter of the new Scottish partnerships have failed to reveal this information. Of those that did complete the register, 30% were Ukrainian, 16% were Russian and just 8.7% were British.If we simply required better information about those who set up UK corporate entities, we could stem the flow of dirty money into Britain. All we need do is ask for a birth certificate or passport so we can assess the legitimacy of both the individual and their money.

We should also strengthen the way our corporate structures are policed. It’s ridiculous that just six people in Companies House are trying to check whether or not some 4m companies comply with the law and provide accurate information. It’s shortsighted to starve HMRC, the police, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority of the resources they need to stamp out corruption and tackle financial crime.

Finally a growing number of MPs from all parties want the government to implement another undertaking made by David Cameron in 2013. We need public registers of beneficial ownership in our tax havens so that the public, the media and civil society knows who owns the companies that hide their identity and their wealth in these secret jurisdictions. Transparency would at a stroke stop tax havens being used for corrupt purposes by criminals from Russia and elsewhere. The government could use the anti-money laundering bill currently being considered by parliament to do this.

Take these actions. Then the Russians would know that when we say we will not allow unlawful acts by states or criminals to pass without punishment, we mean it.