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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 42 New Delhi October 8, 2016

Philogagging, Hermeneutics and International Politics

Sunday 9 October 2016


by Ashfaq Maqsood Ali

Immanuel Kant, the eighteenth century philosopher and an idealist, while arguing that only pure reason can lead to truth, excluded almost everything derivable from sensation and experience. For him, things do not present themselves to the mind, through senses, as they really are. Thus, relying on sensory experience alone people only know things as they seem to be — never as they actually are. Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein in their book, Plato and a Platypus, provided a description of Kant’s position, analogically, in the form of a classic joke. They rightly described that the joke sounds deliciously goofy on the surface, but speaks of the very fundamental issue, that is, the question of what sort of information about the world we can depend on. Morty comes home to find his wife and his best friend (Lou) naked together in bed. Just as Morty is about to open his mouth, Lou jumps out of the bed and says, “Before you say anything, old pal, what are you going to believe, me or your eyes?” (Plato and a Platypus, 2007, pp. 2-3)

Such a gag confused with philosophy has been described by Cathcart and Klein as philogagging. For them, this issue raises the question: what sort of data is certain and why? Is one way of gathering facts about the world (say senses) more dependable than other (say faith)? Confusions related with data sources and data accuracy create difficulties to research on the issues significant for the contemporary world. These confusions potentially lead to varied interpretations—interpretations suitable to the interests of an interpreter. Thus, semantics and semiotics turn to be tools for promoting the interests of the concerned. People are being pushed to believe in manipulated realities that are constructs of interpretations. Thus, the world has been made tactically dependent on interpretations that are varied in letter and spirit, and potentially divide the world opinion, thinking and behaviour.

The science of interpretations is known as hermeneutics. Domination of a particular interpretation over a particular individual or group is rooted in Gadamer’s principle of historically effected consciousness, that is, understanding; it is situated in history and influenced by history. A particular individual or group, simultaneously, understands a particular interpretation in relation to the history they have lived. Hence, as Martin Heidegger puts it, understanding becomes a structure of being-in-the-world. It was here that Paul Ricoeur advocated for ‘distanciation’ that expects a reader to stand separate from or be objective in relation to a text or an interpretation. However, is there any scope to remain objective regarding a text that changes its meaning in different contexts? As Jacqueous Derrida’s aphorism ‘iterability alters’ suggests, the insertion of texts into new contexts continually produces new meanings. Such a theoretical framework of hermeneutics and deconstruction certifies the possibility to change even interpre-tations with every changing context.

International politics in the twentyfirst century has witnessed a serious challenge in the form of interpretations designed to dilute the truth. It becomes hard to believe in one interpretation regarding a particular fact. For instance, it was evident that before 9/11, many attacks were attributed to the Al-Qaeda that were carried out against the United States’ official establish-ments around the world. Attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in 1998 substantiate the argument. However, when the United States with its potential hard-power turned 9/11 into her advantage in the post-event scenario, a political rhetoric came into existence raising doubts regarding the real mastermind behind these attacks. The drama continued even at the time of Operation Abbottabad in which the US claimed the death of Osama bin Laden. From many quarters, there emerged doubts regarding Osama’s dead body claimed by the US authorities to have been flown to the super-carrier Carl Vinson and buried in the Arabian Sea.

Similarly, after the launch of the US’ Operation Global War against Terrorism, a theory of good and bad militants emerged. This idea was basically rooted in the continuous attacks since 2003 to assassinate General Pervez Musharraf, the then President of Pakistan. However, this theory gained momentum in 2010 when the US provided support to distinguish good from bad Taliban on advocacy of the then Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. Even though Pakistan somehow realised the problem with this distinction after the Peshawar school attack in December 2014, and subsequently withdrew the support for such an idea. However, there is still a controversy among Pak policy-makers to treat all terrorist groups on the same lines. Eventually, this idea of good and bad boys appeared in the Middle-East. For instance, instead of targeting specific groups in Syria, Russia took a position different from that of the US while carrying out indiscriminate attacks on all terrorist establishments with this advocacy that there was no such a distinction of ‘good and bad’ amongst terrorists. Similarly, the creation of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or D’aiesh and its attacks mostly in Europe fall under the same domain of interpretations and philogagging.

The attacks carried out against India, for instance, the 2001 Parliamant attack, 2008 Mumbai attack and even Pathankot attack in January 2016 have been interpretatively overburdened under many constructs. It is quite obvious that these interpretations were mainly produced and reproduced in India and Pakistan. Leaving aside the varied perceptions of the common masses of these two countries, officially there were two divergent views and data regarding these attacks. Now, when Kashmir was boiling on one side and 71st General Assembly was scheduled simultaneously on the other side, the recent Uri attack on an Army establishment in Jammu and Kashmir has highlighted the same discourse. India is engaged in providing evidences against Pakistan and there are simultaneous interpretations from Pakistan constructing the Uri attack as India’s strategic move to promote her interests while defaming Pakistan. It puts human consciousness into a dilemma that whether they should believe their sensory experiences or rely on their faith in a particular nation. It is here that patriotism and loyalty in modern democracies secure grounds for producing a particular type of thinking, opinion and behaviour.

Even in relation to the deteriorating situation of Pakistan, there are constructs that groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which are carrying out deadly attacks in Pak cities and public places, are the creation of Indian intelligence agencies. The dificulty again lies with the data to rely on. Empirical evidences gained through sense experiences support the idea that Pakistan is responsible for all its troubles as the country provided space and nurtured these terrorist organisations in Madrassas therein. However, there is an equal consideration, particularly among Pak citizens, for having faith in the Pak Government’s assertion that all these issues antithetical to the interests of Pakistan are manufactured by India.

After the Uri attack, India claimed of a surgical strike across the Line of Control as reported on September 29, 2016. The media and analysts from both India and Pakistan have started interpreting the claim in varied directions.

However, it is subtle to look over such a claim within the context. India has remained a victim of terrorist organisations operative in Pakistan. Now, the global and regional contexts are supporting India’s stand. Besides being a supporter of the international war against terrorism, India has won the recognition for not supporting the idea of good and bad terrorists. Failure of the US in containing the Taliban, and the resurgence of the Taliban as attributed to the Af-Pak region has put the country into a strategic leverage. Indo-Pak rivalry and Pakistan’s alleged double stand on terrorism has paved the way for New Delhi’s strategy to deal with regional and global terrorism. Streng-thening relations with and gaining strategic support from two Muslim nation-states of South Asia, namely, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, is of utmost significance, as both these countries have been victims of the extremist ideologies and strategies worked out in Pakistan.

Hence, India has the responsibility to engage global powers and pursuade the regional countries for eliminating terrorist networks operative within the region. Surgical strikes in foreign countries constitute one of the ways to achieve this object. Such moves can be interpreted as a breach of sovereignty of the target-countries. However, focusing on the objectives over interpretations is now being applied as a systematic doctrine in foreign policies. For instance, Operation Abbotabad and the drone strikes of the US in Pakistani territory have resulted in achieving what was otherwise impossible. India, with the support of world powers, may apply such strategic doctrines to overcome the Pakistan factor in her war against terrorism. Nevertheless, the science of interpretations will continuously act as a tool of defaming the country for her moves. Hence, it will be interesting to see India’s foreign policy striving for objectives and dealing with such interpretations simultaneously.

Taking all these facts into consideration, it can be argued that international politics is functioning under the shadow of interpretations that have divided human consciousness and distanced human beings from the truth. Such dilemmas, rhetorics and things passionately interpretated and constructed are adding to the million gags. These diverse interpretations are basically structured data aimed at projection of the world according to the psycho-social history of the targeted audience. The remedy, as provided by Paul Ricoeur, is the fundamental distanciation of the reader from her/his self. However, political institutions, including those of modern democracies, never allow this idea of distanciation to prevail. Thus, the role of the state in manufacturing histories first affect the individuals/groups of a particular nation or area at the psychological level while socialising them with certain constructs. Then, the social set-up predominated by political discourses nurture these individuals/groups accordingly. This process made people to sense the essence of manufactured reality instead of the genuine truth. For instance, the consciousness of the people of India and Pakistan is rooted in history. Now, they sense everything with their precon-ceived notions against each other.

To overcome the problem of manifactured realities projected over the truth, the world civil society in general, and the common masses of India and Pakistan in particular, should take recourse from Immanuel Kants idealism. Challenging the primacy of sensory experiences, Kant maintained the existence of a universal moral law rooted in pure reason that, according to him, everyone ought to obey. This pure reason is the source of moral experience of every human being that brings them into direct contact with the reality. Overemphasis on the interpretations produced and reproduced for serving particular interests will further divide the world opinion, thinking and behaviour. Religious extremism has and will continue to act as a means for diverging human conscious-ness and concern. Instead of extremism as a product of diverse interpretations, there is focus on morality in all religions that constitute the basic essence to prioritise humanity. It is this principle of morality that will help in overcoming the challenge of constructs created by diverse interpretations.

Moral philosophy has the potential to enrich hermeneutics as a method of interpretations and research that may lead towards genuine reality. Morality even advocates for treating all religions subservient to humanity. Thus, the whole global community will be beneficial in overcoming the challenges posed by orthodox religious doctrines. Having belief on his morally experienced individual and law of progress, Immanuel Kant even dreamt of perpetual peace all over the world. The tolerant philosophy of Hinduism and the rich tradition of Islamic Sufi saints are based on morality that, if experienced, will bridge the gaps of social, psychological and even political aspects between the two nuclear powers of South Asia.

The author did his Ph.D from the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir. He is now a Lecturer in the Government College for Women, Srinagar. He can be contacted at e-mail: amali039[at]

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