On Aamir Khan’s decision to carry the torch

There are good reasons to carry the Olympic torch. Aamir Khan gave the worst one.

Aamir Khan, it has been reported, has turned down pleas by Tibetan refugees, fans, friends and some members of his family not to carry the Olympic torch on its Indian leg on April 17th.

His decision is in sharp contrast to that of Baichung Bhutia, the Indian football captain. Mr Bhutia pulled out of the programme as a personal protest against the China’s handling of the protests in Tibet.

It is not at all surprising that Mr Bhutia’s decision was hailed as heroic, and Mr Khan’s criticised. Indeed, if Mr Khan had only justified his decision based on the need for an Indian citizen to respect the Olympic spirit on the grounds that the Olympics ought to transcend politics, like Kiran Bedi did, his decision too would have been praiseworthy. It would have invoked the Longbottom principle.

Unfortunately, Mr Khan went on to justify his decision by belittling his own country. As B Raman writes in an open letter to Mr Khan, and as The Acorn pointed out when M K Bhadrakumar made a similar argument a few days ago, it takes a particular form of moral deficiency to equate China and India and the way they deal with disaffected citizens.

There can only be contempt for those who draw this specious analogy and hide behind the I-am-against-any-form-of-violence amoral pacifism.

That Aamir Khan made this comparison should disqualify him from carrying the torch on behalf of India. The torch should be carried by those who are proud of the values that India stands for.

Shame on you, Mr Khan.

Update: Aamir Khan is carrying the torch on behalf of the Coca Cola Company, and not a representative of India. The difference is important. It is a decision between him and his corporate sponsor. Given his repugnant perception of his own country’s values, it should only be a good thing that he is not “officially” representing India. But this does not mean that his comments are any less excusable.

, , , , , , ,

68 Responses to On Aamir Khan’s decision to carry the torch

  1. Duma Dum Mast 7th April 2008 at 12:28 #

    >>I know Pankaj, but Marx and Lenin can take scant credit for that one (a reading of Mein Kampf makes amply clear just what Hitler’s views were about social-democrats, communists, etc.

    Which is like arguing that Hitler cannot take credit for the killings perpetrated by those for whom his ideology was the inspiration.

    Well, anyways, Qalandar, economist Hayek and some other European historians of the early 20th century recorded the fact that the early recruits to Hitler’s politics came from the ranks of German communists.

  2. Qalandar 7th April 2008 at 12:34 #

    Re: “Well, anyways, Qalandar, economist Hayek and some other European historians of the early 20th century recorded the fact that the early recruits to Hitler’s politics came from the ranks of German communists.”

    Hayek never saw anything he couldn’t blame on communists :-)

    Kidding aside, Hitler also cited the Native American reservations as inspiration for his model of what the Reich ought to do with certain minorities; it would be a stretch to argue on the basis of this that the 19th century United States inspired the Nazi genocide. Communism has plenty of “its own” crimes, and it’s weak to try and add the Nazi crimes as well to their catalogue. [The more rigorous approach is something like Arendt’s in The Origins of Totalitarianism, where we might trace a common “ancestry” for both; Arendt found it in imperialism, specifically in the “scramble for Africa”.]

  3. Qalandar 7th April 2008 at 12:37 #

    Yikes, 3AM in NYC…and a weekday dawning. That’s it for me tonight, later all…

  4. Qalandar 7th April 2008 at 12:39 #

    Re: “Which is like arguing that Hitler cannot take credit for the killings perpetrated by those for whom his ideology was the inspiration.”

    It would be like that, if the predicate of your statement held: but where’s the evidence that Marxist-Leninist ideology inspired the Third Reich?

  5. Duma Dum Mast 7th April 2008 at 12:55 #

    >>You omit the very important context here, which is precisely what was addressed in my earlier comments: namely that Aamir Khan had also said that holding the Olympics anywhere would be a problem if we focused on human rights violations

    And ‘anywhere’ being ‘India’, through his mention of Kashmir. Khan’s insinuation is that India’s claim to stage the games rests on as shaky moral grounds as China’s, because, you know, India is just about as bad as China. Here is man throwing dirt on his own country, and I was offering you the choice to argue that he was doing so because he’s just an idiot who doesn’t know the sinister nature of communism and its influence on the Chinese.

    >>Now this is off topic, but the notion that there has merely been “the odd extrajudicial killing” in Kashmir flies in the face of all the evidence

    Of course, there is the overwhleminng evidence of 400000 people remaining exiled in their own country. Any human rights report on Kashmir that adequately highlights this atrocity deserves our respect, but any other that ignores it needs to be used as a substitute for toilet paper. (BG Varghese invesigated some of the reports that don’t mention this fact — put out mostly by Islamists and Communists — and found they were bunkum.)

    I give credit to Khan for not ignoring it, but however, the overall context in which he mentions it makes it an act of cynicism. He mentions it so that he can drag in “Kashmiris in general” (who are not forced to live in exile, by the way, and, unlike Tibetans, are ruled by an elected government), and then to go on to legitimize the moral equivalence he invented between India and China. What about the human rights atrocities inflicted on Americans by Al Qaeda? How about human rights atrocities inflicted on Indians by Islamists? How about the killings of innocent Israelis by Palestinian terrorists? How about the killings of school children in Beslan? Why is Khan shutting his eyes out to these barbarisms? If he must drag in India, how about the genocide at Nandigram by CPIM cadre with the help of WB police? Hence my original argument:

    Khan recognizes that all nations are guilty of human rights violations and all peoples are victims of them; yet he goes on to single out a few “victims”, “Kashmiris in general” among them. (This, don’t forget, in the context of subjugation of Tibetans and Tibet; Chinese Communists’s track record of killings of thousands of people and Tiananmen Square, etc, etc).

    All your arguments fly in the face of this crucial fact. Which is why I suspected that you must be a big fan of Khan. Hope that explains it, so please don’t get annoyed. It is normal for fans of filmstars to view their objects of adoration as flawless demigods.

  6. Qalandar 7th April 2008 at 17:43 #

    RE: “Khan’s insinuation is that India’s claim to stage the games rests on as shaky moral grounds as China’s, because, you know, India is just about as bad as China. Here is man throwing dirt on his own country…”

    Uh, no: see comments 28 & 29 for an alternative reading. This by the way is why I had made the earlier point about re-gurgitating comments that seems to have disappointed you so much; we’re going around in circles here, and I don’t see much new in either your comments or mine with respect to the topic at hand.

    Re: “Of course, there is the overwhelminng evidence of 400000 people remaining exiled in their own country. Any human rights report on Kashmir that adequately highlights this atrocity deserves our respect, but any other that ignores it needs to be used as a substitute for toilet paper.”

    You’re confusing two different issues here: the cleansing and expulsion of the Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley is an atrocity of epic proportions — but I did not understand you to be referring to this when you mentioned “the odd extra-judicial killing”, as “extra-judicial” refers to the state’s agents taking the law into their own hands, and does not speak to other actors. Read fairly, your earlier statement was that there is merely the occasional such killing in Kashmir, and India in general. I disagree. I suspect you know it as well as I do that the numbers are shamefully high (hence you omit India in general from your response, and focus only on Kashmir, whereas my comment and your original comment had dealt with both). That they are less severe than an instance of ethnic cleansing is no cause for comfort, but instead of dismay: a democratic state is of necessity held to a different standard that ethnic cleansers.

    Re: “What about the human rights atrocities inflicted on Americans by Al Qaeda? How about human rights atrocities inflicted on Indians by Islamists? How about the killings of innocent Israelis by Palestinian terrorists? How about the killings of school children in Beslan? Why is Khan shutting his eyes out to these barbarisms?”

    You’ll have to ask Khan that, but for my response, see above.

    Re: “…how about the genocide at Nandigram by CPIM cadre with the help of WB police…”

    It is a sign of the impoverishment of our discourse that we seem to lack the vocabulary to condemn something and point out its atrocious nature unless we refer to it as “genocide” or “Stalinist” or “fascist” etc. Since you’ve brought up the question of “objectivity” and “evidence” a few times here, I feel compelled to note that the violence at Nandigram appalled me, but it did not appear to me to fit the definition of “genocide”.

  7. Sameer Wagle 7th April 2008 at 19:02 #

    Dear Aamir,

    I have been a great fan of yours for your dedication to produce high quality cinema and your principled stand on many issues. You seemed different from the money chasing stars running from one movie set to another

    Therefore your stand on the Olympic torch issue came as a big disappointment. There are two major flaws in what you have said in your post.

    Firstly if one acceps your principle that one should stop protesting because there are problems across the world than there should be no public demonstrations or rallies at all anywehere in the world. How do you defend for example your sit in on the Narmada issue with Medha Patkar using the same logic? Haven’t dams displaced people in China, South America etc

    Secondly you seem to imply that what is happening in Tibet is similar to what is happening in Kashmir. Yes we have done a lot of things wrong and misery in Kashmir but to compare the two is a gross distortion of facts. In Kashmir one does have elections however flawed they are. And in Kashmir one does not have the kind of denigration of a respected religious leader as is happening in Tibet nor an attempt to change the population mix of the state (in fact it is the other way. Non-Kashmiris cannot buy land in Kashmir)

    Aamir – is it finally commercial interest that is driving your defence ? If that is the case the least you can do is be upfront about it. People will respect your contractual obligations. But by making a public stand like this you are harming your country as well as the Tibetian people.

    Remember as a big star you have a lot of power to influence public opinion. With this power also comes responsibility. Use it wisely

    Regards

    Sameer

  8. socal 7th April 2008 at 22:22 #

    Qalandar,

    “Personally I think this is a needless “upping of the ante” in this discussion. It seems like the height of bad faith to suggest that Muslim Indians compromise on their religious observance when evidently no-one else should even try to minimize their use of petrol as part of a “symbolic boycott”?”

    Since I don’t have insight into the reasons behing your personal thinking I would leave it at that. However, what I said was meant for not lowering the bar not for “upping the ante.” Saudi Arabia and China are today the biggest violators of fundamental rights: religious and human. It is so because of their financial clout and cultural influence. As I said, consumption of petrol is related to livelihood. You can take out all SUVs and luxuries consuming oil but still it will be needed. For same reasons, trade with China will continue.

    The only option left is to curb their efforts to legitimize their repressive regimes in their own way. China is using olympics to showcase its political system that arguably led to its financial rise. Saudi Arabia, apart from holding 25% of world’s proven oil reserves derives mileage out of its religious significance, which is why hitting at those very attributes, even symbolically, can constitute an effective snub, a polite way of saying ‘no’ to their loud claims.

    One cannot blame non-muslims for being not available with the cause of symbolic religious protests against Saudi Arabia. It is not a “height of bad faith” but a limitation placed by the Saudi’s insistence on exclusive faith. It will be quite a bold statement on part of muslims because they’re the only ones with some standing to influence the repressive Saudis.

    Knowing that the Saudis are exporting their vile system to countries in need like Bangladesh and Indonesia imagine how many people will benefit if the Saudis initiated even a small change in their temperament towards actual change.

    >>>”This sort of statement seems particularly odd when the Government of India is — through ONGC — a partner with the genocidal jihadis in power in Khartoum no?”

    No, not at all. Buying oil is a necessity, supplying weapons is not, which is what the Chinese are doing. They’re the ones supplying helicopter gunships and armored vehicles that reach the Janjaweed(another jihadi group), thus directly abetting the genocide. It is apparently a part of their agreement with the Sudanese govt which gives them privileged access to the Sudanese oil. Same works for Nigeria with ethnic strife and increasing fundamentalism of the Saudi kind.

  9. socal 7th April 2008 at 22:24 #

    “With this power also comes responsibility”

    With soft power comes soft responsibility, which is to say, no responsibility.

  10. Qalandar 8th April 2008 at 09:05 #

    socal: your point is much clearer to me now, thanks for the clarification.

    Personally, I feel that — given the psychology of religious belief, perhaps something a cheerful heretic like myself will always have trouble “accessing” — it isn’t realistic expecting a boycott. Pilgrims just don’t care: even when relations between Indian and Pakistan were at their lowest, a steady trickly of Sikh pilgrims would visit Guru Nanak’s birthplace in Pakistan, and that number has increased by a fair amount in recent years. I’m sure many if not most of the pilgrims must be under no illusions about Pakistan’s ideology, nor about terrorism in India, etc., but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone (I’m confident that if travel were easier, even more would go). Similarly, a small number of Hindu pilgrims do make the trek to Mount Kailash in Tibet, and again if visa restrictions were eased I suspect more would go; I’m quite confident that the notion that they might boycott their own religious observance won’t have crossed their minds. In fact we see this the world over: Palestinians won’t NOT go to the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem because Israel is in control, and Jews who are opposed to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza won’t avoid the Wailing Wall. Ditto Catholics who are vehemently opposed to the Pope’s/Church’s stand on contraception, abortion etc., do not seem to boycott St. Peter’s (heck non-Christians like myself won’t boycott the Vatican/St. Peter’s (a church that assuredly consigns me to hellfire as sure as I live) either — the Sistine Chapel…the Vatican museum…’nuff said).

    [Since “moral equivalence” has come up a few times in this thread let me be very clear: the point here is NOT that all these situations are “the same situation”; it is that the religiously inclined don’t think in these terms when it comes to their religious observance. My mother is a good example: she has been to Saudi Arabia twice, once for the Hajj, and once for the non-obligatory “umrah” (“little” pilgrimage); both times my impression was she found it very distressing as a woman (especially when one is used to good ol’ desi behenji-to-the-front-of-the-line chivalry :-)), but I doubt it would ever have occurred to her not to go.]

    Of course, one aspect in which the Saudi example differs from the ones I have cited above (a difference that I doubt makes any difference to the pilgrims I referenced above, but nevertheless an important difference) is that the Saudi regime derives great legitimacy from its position as “custodians of the shrines”; the Vatican is comparable in a sense, but obviously Pakistan derives no legitimacy or symbolic authority from Guru Nanak’s birthplace. Thus Saudi Arabia would be more vulnerable to a boycott (both economically and symbolically). But given the psychology of religious expression and belief, I wouldn’t hold my breath — the Iranians are the best example: few can have more reason to dislike the Wahhabis in power in Saudia (not only did Saudia help fund Iraq during the long and incredibly pointless Iran-Iraq war, but over half of Saudia’s oil revenue I am led to believe comes from a province where Shiites are in the majority, and where the Shiites are denied the right to publicly hold their festivals), and yet even they don’t boycott the Hajj. [Aside: it would be interesting to speculate whether as a theological matter one could boycott the Hajj; certainly the sanctity of the Hajj didn’t stop Abdul Wahab from attacking the Kaaba and slaughtering worshippers there because he felt their practices weren’t orthodox enough. I’m not well-versed enough in this area to have a definite view.]

    That control over Islam’s holiest shrines should rest with a regime like the House of Saud has been deeply distressing to me for as long as I can remember, and is a huge “symbolic victory”.

  11. Qalandar 8th April 2008 at 09:10 #

    Re: “As I said, consumption of petrol is related to livelihood. You can take out all SUVs and luxuries consuming oil but still it will be needed. For same reasons, trade with China will continue.”

    I do not disagree — but do wish to point out that if one thinks in these terms, then one is already not part of the (relevant) set of “pilgrims.” i.e., Your statement assumes that everyone agrees that this question of “livelihood” trumps the question of a religious observance. Certainly it does for me, but there are plenty of people for whom this is not so — since this was originally a thread on Aamir Khan, Mangal Pandey comes to mind…

  12. X 9th April 2008 at 05:56 #

    Indeed, if Mr Khan had only justified his decision based on the need for an Indian citizen to respect the Olympic spirit on the grounds that the Olympics ought to transcend politics, like Kiran Bedi did, his decision too would have been praiseworthy. It would have invoked the Longbottom principle.

    And why do you think Olympics ought to transcend politics? Because all governments have various human rights violations, some big, some small. We can’t be complaining about it all the time. Aamir Khan just removed the extra level of indirection when stating his justification. The difference in the 2 justifications is only syntactic and not semantic.

  13. Ravindra 10th April 2008 at 11:48 #

    Nitin,

    This isnt the first time that Aamir’s position on Kashmir is being revealed. In his movie Fanaa, he had one of the characters, Tabu, who incidentally played an intelligence officer, mouthing anti-India statements on Kashmir, similar to the one on his blog. Okay, one may say that Fanaa wasnt written by him. But after reading the blog, I wonder if that line in the dialogue had an Aamir-influence!

  14. Adonis 19th April 2008 at 12:49 #

    Hi Nitins, Jais, Indians etc.,

    I feel we are forgetting the bigger deficiency in us. Our Hockey team has not qualified for the olympics, miniscule contingent is going to olympics, of which not one is likely to come near to winning a medal! I am not a fan of Amir nor am I is his hate mate! He is just an actor, we are talking about OLYMPIC GAMES, let’s restrict to games and not waste our time in trivialities!! Let us see a gold medal winner among us, let us make a path breaking discovery in science, let us eradicate so many evils that are plaguing our country, I am not a saint or a revolutionary, but to me its just a arm chair discussion that we are engaging, forgetting the real bigger issue. For once let us spare the poor actor, he runs or not runs is no issue for me, as long as we and our govt are with the hosts and the games!! God bless souls.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Carrying The Torch | DesiPundit - 4th April 2008

    […] Acorn criticizes Aamir for offering the worst possible reason to carry the torch, There can only be contempt for those who draw this specious analogy and hide behind the […]

  2. B Raman’s Open Letter to Aamir Khan - 4th April 2008

    […] suppression and terror in stifling Tibet’s struggle for independence. Nitin at The Acorn is not convinced of Aamir’s analogy and is saddened that he chose to belittle India by pointing out unrelated unrests within the country. Those who compare handling of internal […]

  3. Whoring Aamir Khan Style - 4th April 2008

    […] The Acorn reports that Aamir Khan has decided to carry the Olympic torch on its journey through India. He is paid by the Coca Cola company to do so. Whoring for the Chinese government indirectly through the commercial interests of a peddler of soft drinks is no shame. Aamir Khan is a past master of the game. Aamir Khan is especially notable for his ability to make movies that press the right buttons — and the idiots the general public just laps it up with great relish. I am sure that quite a few bucks change hands under the table for a movie to be given the “tax free” stamp. Both parties — the political whores and the bollywood whores — must have quite a hearty laugh at the clueless millions who fall for the tripe. […]

  4. Why Aamir Can, and does most of the times « A moo point, basically … - 7th August 2008

    […] He mouths a lot of bull about damming/ running issues almost as if his conscience has occasional reminders of its existence, but quickly zips it […]

More in Foreign Affairs, Public Policy (834 of 2446 articles)


The more China puts pressure on India over the Tibetan protests, the more it harms bilateral relations First, the Chinese ...