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Thinking of Che and The World

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There is a moment in Che’s journey into the heart of Latin America where he reaches the other end of capital: the far edge where people reduced to mere shadows of themselves toil in the mines so that through a long, convoluted, backflow of their labor, their masters–elsewhere in the world–could enrich themselves. In my reading of Che, the encounter at the mines is the moment of moments for Che: a moment that could decide the undecided self that he had taken to the mountains. It is there at the mine talking to the men and women that he sees the naked face of capital: brutal, harsh, and rapacious.

I have never had such an experience, for when I went to the mountains it was to fight a war and people, those under my command and those around me, were just instrumental. I was twenty-one and not yet ready to question my own privileged place in the world. Capital was good, especially since it underwrote my privilege and offered me a thousand different rationalizations for the injustices and inequalities of the world.

Now, I often reflect on these things. There is a part of me that is wary of all self legitimizing narratives: qualifications, degrees, publications. The ultimate question that we all need to ask ourselves is simply this: what kind of world have we created? We live in a world where millions still die of starvation, where children still suffer because of inadequate healthcare, where poverty is on the rise while the rich keep getting richer.

How did we get here? Maybe, I will think about it after I get my tenure, or after I finish my next book; it is always after I have finished my next important project. Meanwhile, as I build a spectacular career, children are still dying: here, there, elsewhere and they are dying in a world of plenty.

If neoliberal economics is supposed to solve all our problems and make the world a better place, then how come the disparities between the rich and poor have increased and there is more suffering in the world than before. Yes, we have a thousand rationalizations at our disposal. It is mostly people out there somewhere: people who did not have the sheer luck to be born on this side of the global divide of labor.

Here I am: in the heart of capital and lately I have been experiencing the Che moment only my moment is the vision of naked capital at its crucible, at its very heart where the sufferings of millions are forged all in the name of free trade, comparative advantage, IMF, WTO, and other such labels.

Day and night the self righteous prophets of capital spew their two-mouthed incantations at me. Even their speech is inhuman for they use terms that no normal human uses: cash flows, futures, financial instruments. I live in a country where the super rich pay less taxes than their middle class counterparts and consider it their right. Across the ocean, in my home country, the super rich do not pay any taxes at all and live comfortably while their brothers and sisters die of curable diseases and have no resources to feed their children.

Yes, we live in a harsh world where we are led to believe that we are on our own. That is a perfect strategy: make us suspicious of each other, replace love with competition and you get the perfect rats for a stinking system. This is what I think when I am not busy being busy and self-important.

I think of Che and wonder: was he just special or did he live in a different age. An age where people still had hope and had not yet pawned their dreams.

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In Support of Higher Education Comission, Pakistan

A few months ago while in Islamabad, I had the opportunity to meet several official so the Higher Education Commission (HEC). I must say I found each one of the individuals to be professional, courteous, and exceedingly competent in their respective jobs. This, for any Pakistani dealing with government institutions, was a rare experience. I  people I interacted with to be dedicated about their jobs and about the larger mission of the HEC.

As an academic based in the US, during the last decade I have experienced, first hand, the contributions made by the HEC in the field of higher education as the number of highly qualified and well prepared graduate students finishing their degrees in the US has increased dramatically. In the domestic sphere, HEC has been crucial in developing not only the institutional standards but also in promoting a culture of scholarship and research across the board. As an expatriate, anytime someone asks me a question about the higher education in Pakistan, I am always very confident to refer them to the HEC website as I know that they will be able to find help and guidance about their projects in Pakistan, no matter where the institution of their interest was located in Pakistan. HEC provides not only a central quality control for higher education but also a centralized institution with the domestic and global reach needed for an increasingly internationalized higher education.

It is extremely hard for the developing nations to build such wonderful institutions, especially in this era of IMF instituted structural requirements.  Pakistan has spent a lot of energy and resources in creating and sustaining this wonderfully useful institution.

In my humble opinion, to destroy this institution for the sake of political expediency is unacceptable and the dissolution of HEC will certainly harm the long-term interests and goals of Pakistani higher education.

I, therefore, strongly urge all those involved in higher education to vice their opinions against this dismantling of HEC. Please take a few moments to sign our petition, a collated version of which will be sent to the government of Pakistan:

Petition Link