Anything that moves

Beyond terrorism, it is the threat of religious conservatism that unites India and Israel

If India has its bovine and traditional obsessions, one in every four Israeli students is getting little or no secular education.

As Narendra Modi makes his second visit to Israel, this time as prime minister of India, here are a few thoughts on that nation and our relationship with it.

The founding of Israel was a morally illegitimate act precipitated by a European colonial power acting in concert with European Zionists against the native population of the land. At some point, however, attempting to reverse a morally illegitimate act can itself become morally illegitimate. José Arcadio Buendía says, in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, “A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground.” There are more than enough Israelis dead under the ground to justify the nation’s status as the homeland of those still alive. Supporting its continued existence need not any longer be based upon an acceptance of the theological basis of its founding.

The Palestinian Cause

The issue of Palestine remains unresolved, of course, and the current Israeli administration has shown even less inclination than past ones to negotiate a two-state solution. On the flipside, Muslim-majority nations in the region have for decades used the issue of Palestine to mask their own inadequacies and internal dissensions. The mask began to slip once Barack Obama told leaders of West Asian nations to fight their own battles. Now it has fallen off entirely, and Palestine can no longer be presented as the fundamental ethical issue facing the Middle East.

If Palestine is but one among a number of serious matters of contention in the region, the Indian prime minister’s visit to Israel is as justifiable as his earlier visit to Saudi Arabia, home to one of the world’s most ghastly regimes. And with the profile of the Palestinian cause shrinking on the international community’s radar, Modi’s refusal to travel to the West Bank during his Israel visit has caused less controversy than it would have done a few years ago.

Oil and Weapons

We need Israel just as we need Saudi Arabia. The latter sells us oil and provides jobs for working class Indian migrants, the former sells us precious military hardware and agricultural technology. It should be embarrassing, if not shameful, that a nation of over a billion people has to import weaponry from one that has less than a hundredth as many citizens and was founded a mere 70 years ago. For some reason, though, our abject failure to develop indigenous arms technologies has never given rise to a sense of humiliation among nationalists. We are convinced we are on our way to becoming a global superpower, though one of the qualities shared by superpowers for centuries has been self-sufficiency in arms technology.

For Israel, the appeal of India is obvious. When Israelis look east, they see a succession of politically and culturally hostile nations until they reach a place where their youth can hang out smoking weed after a hard year in the army without facing hatred or discrimination. Benjamin Netanyahu shares with Narendra Modi and Donald Trump a hatred of Islam and Muslims, though he and Modi are more sly in their expression of it than the US President.

A common threat

Israel, India and all the countries between them face a common threat. The threat, most pronounced in Muslim-majority countries, is growing in India under the Hindu nationalist administration, and might also undercut some of Israel’s achievements in the future. I am speaking about the threat of religious conservatism, which is quite different from that of terrorism.

Israel’s success makes clear that the creation of an economy based on knowledge is the surest way to sustainable economic gains in the world today. In contrast, much of the Middle East depends on a single commodity, oil, which will soon become redundant. Many of the nations that today depend on oil exports have nothing in place to replace it. I am convinced that Abu Dhabi and its ilk will suffer the same fate by the middle of the 21st century as cities like Detroit did towards the end of the 20th.

India is lucky, in a sense, to be relatively resource poor. It must depend on the hard work and ingenuity of its citizens to grow wealthier. Unfortunately, our educational system is so narrowly instrumental that it closes horizons instead of broadening them, leading to a shortfall in original science research and technological innovation. The Modi government has exacerbated the problem by focusing on trying to validate traditional Hindu beliefs and practices. Its bovine obsession hasn’t yet seriously affected our already weak innovation output, but the effect of diverting resources towards finding uses for cow faeces and urine will be felt down the line.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men scuffle with Israeli policemen. Image credit: Reuters/Oren Nahshon
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men scuffle with Israeli policemen. Image credit: Reuters/Oren Nahshon

Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox

Israel, meanwhile, faces a peculiar demographic crisis. A little background will help explain it. Although Israel was created as a Jewish homeland, its early leaders belonged to the secular Left. Some ultra-religious Jewish denominations actually opposed Israel’s creation on the grounds that the nation had to emerge not as the result of human action but as a miracle performed by God. Most members of ultra-orthodox sects within Israel today survive on state doles, do little work, and send their children to the Jewish equivalent of madrassas, known as Haredi schools. Haredi schools offer very little secular education, and Benjamin Netanyahu has rolled back regulations that enforced a core curriculum on schools that received state funds. It seems a reasonable condition: you want to be funded by taxes, then teach your students some maths, some English, some science. It will help them get jobs should they choose to spend their time on something beside religious scripture. But right-wing religious parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would have none of it.

This wouldn’t be an issue had the population of the ultra-orthodox stayed tiny. But in Israel, as everywhere, liberals have fewer children than religious conservatives. The average Haredi woman produces 6.2 children and the average non-Haredi woman just 2.4. As a result, while Haredis are 10% of Israel’s population, their number is growing rapidly, and a full 25% of Jewish children in Israel today attend Haredi schools. Which is another way of saying that one in every four Israeli students is getting little or no secular education and will grow to adulthood ill-equipped to contribute to a knowledge-based economy.

The mixing of religion and politics poses an even greater danger to Israel than it does to India.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.