Pakistani flood and our casual bigotry

Posted in disaster, foreign policy by jrahman on August 26, 2010

Unless you’ve spent the past weeks in Mars, you’d have heard about the flood in Pakistan.  I’ve heard it described as worse than the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004 in terms of the number of people affected, worse than Haiti’s earthquake in terms of intensity, and more crucial than Iraq in terms of geopolitical implications.

Make no mistake, this is bad.

And yet, when I look around in Bangladeshi discourse — mainstream media or blogs and facebook, government or NGOs, or even in private conversations — barring a few exceptions, I see nothing about this massive calamity.

Of course, part of this because Pakistan government itself was too late in recognising the severity of the crisis, causing a delay in the crisis affecting the global consciousness.

But we have known about the disaster for a while now.  So there is probably more to it than the ineptitude of Pakistani state — after all, western (and even Indian) discourse has been debating about how to help Pakistan.

I suspect our silence has a lot to do with the sense of ultra-nationalism that pervades many of our minds.  This ultra-nationalism produces a casual hatred that can create a hatred-infused casual bigotry which is no less dangerous than the violence that was visited upon us by Pakistan army in 1971.

Here is an example of the casual racism.  Can you imagine such a piece about the English, whose imperialism and war policy led to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, which also killed millions?  Or how would we react if a piece like this was written about the Bengali Muslims by Hindus who had to leave this land  over the past six decade?  Will we ever allow such a piece in any self-styled progressive outlet about the slaughter of Muslims in Calcutta or Bihar in 1946?

I suspect this casual bigotry, this sheer hatred that is a betrayal of the humanist values of our freedom struggle, has a lot to do with our indifference towards the humanitarian disaster in Pakistan.  We are so blinded by this hatred that we only see ‘hated Paki’, not the millions who are victims of the very same military oligarchy that wronged us in 1971.

And this failure to recognise the real enemy and the real danger has fallouts that our self-styled progressives should think calmly about.

First, as we embark on the trial of those who committed crimes against humanity in 1971, our ultimate aim must include holding the ringleaders of the genocide into account.  Our ultimate aim, may be not achievable today, or tomorrow, but someday and for eternity, must be something along this line:

For me, justice means something like Berlin’s Holocaust Museum is constructed in Islamabad. I want to see signs where they say that such an event took place, and it was our fault, because we did it, and we are sorry. You can’t ask the daughter to forgive the murderer of her father. Revenge doesn’t make sense, either. Just because my father died doesn’t mean yours has to die. But recognition, that something took place, and the fact that it should not take place again— that’s justice. The Holocaust museum says it happened, therefore it can happen again.

As long as we only see ‘hated Pakis’, we will never be able to achieve any of this.  Is it really so hard for our progressives — from the late Humayun Azad to the average netizen of Bangla blogosphere — to understant this?

Second, abstracting from 1971, Pakistan is in a crossroad now.  Its military oligarchy has failed its people repeatedly.  Its feudal aristocratic civilian leaders have proved to be no better.  Its under siege from religious fanatics.

And yet, it has a liberal democratic force with people like Hamid Mir and Ayesha Jalal that is heir to the poetry of Faiz Ahmed and the prose of Sadat Hasan Manto.  And this force looks to us as role model and potential ally.

Any progressive politics worth its name has to have an element of internationalism.  We have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistani democrats for both ideological and pragmatic reasons.  If Pakistan falls, the ripple effects will be felt in Bangladesh too — let’s be absolutely clear about that fact.

Bangladesh army is world’s best in distributing relief in flood conditions.  Our NGOs are the world’s best in terms of dealing with post-flood public health crisis.

Just imagine what could happen if the villagers along the Indus were rescued by our men and women.

(Updated 28 Aug, 7.20am BDT)

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28 Responses

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  1. tacit said, on August 28, 2010 at 4:31 am

    What was Humayun Azad’s role in the 1971 war?

    • jrahman said, on August 28, 2010 at 7:21 am

      I don’t know. But the equation of the War with his personal amorous liaison is extremely distasteful and insensitive. And we are so blinded by our own hatred that we fail to see this.

  2. tacit said, on August 28, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I asked because my pet theory on this subject runs something like this. The horrors inflicted by the Pakistani Army on us during the Liberation War has had a deeply emasculating effect on a large portion of our male populace. This effect is more pronounced on those who did not actually go and play an active role in the ’71 war. They try to compensate their latent guilt by projecting negative feelings on Pakistanis in other settings.

    I don’t know what Azad did in ’71. The internet says he was born in 1947, which would make him just about right to go and fight in the war. If he did not, his latter literary efforts may just be a way to compensate for his inactivity during 1971 (of course, if he did, then the theory does not hold up).

      • tacit said, on August 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm

        Couldn’t participate due to “mother’s tears.” Got it.

    • BanglaRebel said, on February 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      ►The horrors inflicted by the Pakistani Army on us during the Liberation War has had a deeply emasculating effect on a large portion of our male populace.◄

      This may be adequate for a certain category of Bangladeshi which you mention [i.e. those of the necessary age who did not participate actively in the freedom struggle, particularly those of a literate-intellectual bent], but I’m not sure it necessarily holds up for the male population at large.

      After all, in 1971 Pakistan had it’s military machinery stationed in [current] Bangladesh. Bangladeshi forces were not stationed in Pakistan [i.e. a retaliatory force of equivalent size]. Pakistan had a well-trained, incredibly well-armed and supplied military. Bangladeshis taking up arms were regular civilians fighting in their lungis. Much of the initial “thrust” from the Bangladeshi side was done under much uncertainty i.e. the extent of support from India, arms supplies etc.

      In light of a civilian populace taking up a struggle against a well-oiled military complex, I don’t think it severely dents the “pride” of the general Bangladeshi male. In fact from everything/everyone that I’ve read and interacted with, quite the opposite.

      Additionally, I have multiple Bangladeshi friends/relatives with Pakistani wives. With the exception of one, they display varying degrees of antipathy towards Pakistanis at certain times. But I don’t think you could describe the feelings as stemming from some type of “emasculating effect” [at least I hope not! :)]. It is often simply a response to what happened during the war and the collective stories that crop up. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best, and I don’t think we need to sit on Freud’s couch to deduce it :). Of course YMMV.

  3. Diganta said, on August 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    If Pakistan falls, the ripple effects will be felt in Bangladesh too — let’s be absolutely clear about that fact.

    – I seriously doubt this statement. Pakistan and Bangladesh are two different countries with two different motives. They are miles apart in globe and light years apart in culture and philosophy. The failure or death of Pakistan won’t affect Bangladesh at all.

    • Udayan said, on August 29, 2010 at 1:36 am

      Totally disagree.

      Apart from the general implications of a nuclear armed Pakistan falling into the hands of fanatics in our general vicinity (though the entire world should be worried about this), there are links between Pakistan and Bangladesh (tied to the emotions Jyoti described) that cover pretty much the whole population in BD at least. I also don’t think the culture and philosophy are that significantly different – they (as with elements of Indian culture and philosophy) are continuously shifting nodes on a large spectrum.

  4. jrahman said, on August 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Syeed, thanks for the link. Tacit, interesting theory.

    In a sense, without excusing, I can understand someone like Azad — because they lived through the horrors of 1971, I can understand how hatred might be all consuming for them. What I cannot understand, let alone condone, is the hatred from people who, like me, were born in a free Bangladesh.

    Diganta, suppose a government committed to violent export of worldwide jihad comes to power in Pakistan. You don’t think this will have flow on impacts of Bangladesh? Really? Whatever differences in culture and philosophy there might be between the two countries, such a victory in Pakistan will embolden those in Bangladesh who dream of such an outcome here.

    • Diganta said, on September 1, 2010 at 2:48 am

      The event you are pointing to will affect India, UK, USA and many other countries and of course Bangladesh. But I don’t see flood being related to that. If there’s an incident that takes Pakistan closer to supporting and fostering terrorism, Bangladesh needs to worry.

      Coming back to topic, Humayun Azad’s piece was written based on an experience between 1972 and 1976 (time he spent in Scotland) and it was within first 5 years of genocide in 1971. So, I understand his feelings. However, I don’t understand your point. Is it that we are dragging that incident too far? Or should we forget 1971 incidents?

      • jrahman said, on September 1, 2010 at 6:31 am

        The link with flood is this: massive flood => governance failure => radical groups look more attractive / become more powerful => Pakistan is one step closer to collapse. If the worst natural disaster in our vicinity, and one where we have a lot of expertise to offer, doesn’t bother us because of our hatred, then for at least realpolitik reason we should worry about what happens in Pakistan.

        Azad’s story is an example of the casual bigotry. Take away his polemics and literary fireworks, and what remains: at a university dorm, a Pakistani guy is trying to hook up with a French girl, and Azad beats him to it with his knowledge of French poetry. Try to see the story from the Pakistani guy’s perspective — he meets the girl first, maybe he is trying to impress her with his knowledge of French football, and here comes this other guy and starts talking about poetry… What if the Pakistani guy writes a story about ‘the perfidious Bengali’?

        Azad equates the event with Liberation War. I find it simply amazing that people don’t have a problem with this equation.

        Azad sees ‘Pakistan = rape’. He wrote about the event soon after living through 1971. Without excusing, I can understand the emotion. People who celebrate it in Sachal are, like me, writing from the vantage point of 2010. That a self-styled group of progressives condemn a country of 170 million people, most of whom are victims of the same military-mullah complex that committed the genocide in 1971, as rapist is mindboggling.

        No one is saying 1971 should be forgotten. Far from it. The post explicitly says I want Pakistan to recognise and remember 1971 as well. But that will never happen if we condemn all Pakistanis as rapists.

  5. Rumi said, on August 29, 2010 at 8:47 am

    We may dislike Pakistan in many ways and for many reasons. We have the right to do so, I would say.

    When one says Pakistan is a failing state, she/ he is right in one perspective. Militant Islam has deep root there and govt is failing to control. Corruption among top leadership, frequent military interventions are other factors.

    But at the same time, someone in this country, should keep an eye on the progresses they are making. We, in Bangladesh, should take this as challenges and try to outdo Pakistan.

    Among many progresses, one in Pakistan’s vibrant Parliament. Unlike Bangladesh, where we keep on going backwards, they now have developed a very effective parliamentary culture.

    Our highest judiciary is exactly the opposite of that of Pakistan.

    When our free media esp electronic media showing more and more sign of submission to government, their electronic media, starting with GEO TV have remained fiercely free of government domination. At least their media has not divided the nation into half and decided to side against an imaginary half who they believe are against the independence of the country.

    [ Sorry for the digression from flood issue]

  6. jrahman said, on August 31, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Rumi bhai, no apologies needed as the post is about more than just the flood. Yes, Pakistan’s media and higher judiciary have been playing an excellent role over the past few years in their struggle for democracy. And as a result, even their politicians are being forced to reform. The contrast with Bangladesh is truly saddening.

    But this rather underscores my point that we need to break free of our self-defeating hatred. The cause of a liberal democracy in Bangladesh is intricately linked with developments in Pakistan and India. We cannot break free of ties created by history and geography. As Udayan says, political cultures and philosophies of the entire region ‘are continuously shifting nodes on a large spectrum’.

  7. Diganta said, on September 1, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I got your point. Bangladesh should offer expertise to Pakistan and Pakistan should recognize Bangladesh Genocide. If you compare the probabilities of these two events, which one do you think would be higher?

    • jrahman said, on September 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm

      At the moment, the probability of Pakistan recognising the genocide is pretty low. What can raise that probability? I contend that a democratic Pakistan is more likely to recognise the genocide. How can we assist Pakistani democrats?

      We have a choice. We can call all Pakistanis ‘hated pigs’ or worse, and never have recognition. Or we can work with Pakistani democrats. Which one do you think should be followed?

      • Udayan said, on September 1, 2010 at 9:03 pm

        I don’t think everyone in Bangladesh thinks of Pakistanis as “hated pigs or worse”. Isn’t the spectator reaction at the India-Pakistan hockey match in 1980s Dhaka often referenced for all sorts of analysis?

      • jrahman said, on September 2, 2010 at 5:20 am

        Ah, those analyses are at least as much to do about antipathy towards India (subject of an entire different discussion that we can leave for another time) as affinity towards Pakistan.

        But yes, not every Bangladeshi is vehemently bigoted against all Pakistanis. We have our own budding mullah-military complex, and our own Islam-pasand parties which regularly win 5-10% votes. Even the latest DS-Nielsen poll found over a tenth being opposed to war crimes trial. Presumably these folks have rather positive view of Pakistan.

        And of course outside politics, until the mid-1990s at least, Pakistani cricket team was immensely popular.

        But in the progressive political and cultural circle — that is, the people who dominate our opinionmaking class — the feelings expressed in Azad’s article are very common. And the post is squarely addressed to this circle.

  8. fugstar said, on September 16, 2010 at 4:42 am

    i think a lot of people in bangladesh beleive in ummah , cried and prayed for their borthers and sisters, despite the efforts of deshi haters. probably not the kind of collective action you read about in the year zero press.

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  10. BanglaRebel said, on February 19, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Having hung around Pakistani circles for some time, I can say that the antagonism is more than mutual, at least if we are talking about the hoi polloi. Much of the present softer tone of Pakistani media in articles concerning Bangladesh have more to do with the general state of Pakistan today [disasters/economy/international opinion]. You can read an oft-quoted phrase along the lines of “Bangladesh is today the state that Jinna envisioned Pakistan would be” [don’t know where they get that from – good ol’ Jinnabhai must have been low-balling or something]. However as soon as we hear of troubles in Bangladesh you get that same old triumphalist Bangla-bashing out in force.

    Still, it’s not hard at all to see where much of the Bangladeshi antipathy towards the general Pakistani come from. There was historically a general conveyance of superiority the Pakistanis had towards the “Bengalis” (we all know the anecdotes about being militarily “feeble” etc.), and if you have interacted for long enough with them you will realise a not-insignificant number of them hold these beliefs still. Someone will point out Indians do this too, and in fact so do Bangladeshis. Sure, but it’s seldom so personal and carries the same historical baggage with it. You can’t really expect Bangladeshis to be saints anymore than Indians/Pakistanis.

    Having said all that, it’s true to say that we must work towards a mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan. It makes no sense to hold old grudges forever, you have to move on and work with them. And I agree to that end the democratic movement in Pakistan must be supported, general civic care and responsibility must be encouraged etc. Both countries being Muslim-majority in South Asia, they could work an alliance that sees a more stable Islamic democracy flourishing in the region, which could be an example for the rest of the [wider Islamic] world.

    About the “learning from Pakistan” dialogue: I think it’s clear when there is a good idea in any other country that can be implemented in Bangladesh, then this should clearly be done. We have to develop an objective discussion on such issues [I agree this is not an easy task in Bangladesh; nevertheless we have to move in such a direction]. I don’t really see this as controversial even if we have less-than-optimal relations with said country; good analysis/results are good analysis/results no matter the source. So perhaps here I am making a distinction between ideology and pragmatism.

    Going back to the earlier para, I think the success of Bangladesh is pretty crucial in creating stable relations between the 2 countries. I know what I’m going to say won’t prove to be popular, but I don’t really favour extending olive branches in such situations [I readily admit this judgement is affected by my bias derived from interacting with said community]. Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s important to highlight the issue [problems affecting Pakistan in general and specifically this natural disaster] and certainly nothing amounting to jubilation or mockery is to be tolerated [and I think if we are being fair, nothing to that extent has occurred]. But I really don’t think you are going to derive much from the Pakistani community if you cannot show Bangladesh to be a success. This is not just an emotive reaction exemplified by strutting your tongue out and yelling, “neh, neh, neh, neh”. You can’t begin this reconciliation without understanding that of the 3 countries of the Indian subcontinent, Bangladesh began most precariously and was for a good long while considered the absolute [pardon my German] s**thole of South Asia. Many of the complexes/hang-ups started from there. In an ideal world, none of this would matter. But it isn’t an ideal world. And if you can’t show that Bangladesh has become a success [there’s still more to do on this front], you aren’t going to get an equal seat at the table. This isn’t too different from our interaction with Indians, either.

    I know it seems cynical, but I feel it is more practical as things stand. All my [admittedly tender] years of experience have taught me that much.

    I’m talking about civic [i.e. people-to-people] relations here, not political. The political relationships should clearly be more subtle.

    • jrahman said, on February 20, 2013 at 3:42 am

      I don’t disagree with any of these, and particularly agree with paras 3 and 5.

  11. BDAF said, on March 3, 2013 at 5:14 am

    The worst thing about our strategic situation is having to have Pakistan as an “ally” [the loosest terminology if ever I heard one], and having to have Pakistanis as our “Islamic brethren”. I mean it’s like having to deal with the devil in order to keep Mr Wolf at bay. No joy. [*1]

    Personally though I don’t see why coverage of a disaster geographically pretty distant from BD itself should warrant so much attention. Do we go nuts over Haiti or Somalia? Are they not human too?

    Neither is this a country we have really ever had rosy relations with. I would argue mostly their fault. Bangladeshis [from what I can see] are generally too placating anyway [when it comes to Pakistanis at least]. So I don’t think you can work the “brotherhood” angle. It should get it’s required space, no doubt. But no more, no less.

    Ever asked a Korean what they thought of a Japanese? That was some 70-odd years ago. Yet ours is within living memory and of an even greater scale. Come to think of it, at least pre & post war Korea got a fair amount of development assistance from Japan. You could even argue at least some of Korea’s gargantuan development post 1960s was directly influenced by the structural changes introduced by Japan into Korean society [Note: I am not myself directly advocating this, but at least a case can be made]. Can the same be said for relations between Pakistan-BD? Pre-war was a pile of puke; post-war was only reasonably better because we had them off our soil.

    So personal reasons/narratives matter. Bangladeshis are humans too. You can argue that we should be more accommodating, but really we’re often not given much to be accommodating about.

    I’ll use something the author of this post wrote & combine it with an idea some one else wrote earlier:

    ——–“What if the Pakistani guy writes a story about ‘the perfidious Bengali’?”——– [author]

    Pal, they say the exact same stuff about us now, I really don’t think one or two stories are gonna swing the vote either way. Change in their society really has to have an impetus amongst themselves. Giving them a lollipop or two [from us] to win them over really ain’t going to matter much. In fact, it may just cause the opposite effect; inflate their egos [“we must be some kind of important, huh?”]. If you think otherwise you have either not interacted with sufficient numbers of them or you’ve only met members of the Pakistani Angels club.

    Someone else said it best [though I may be paraphrasing]: the premium way to gain Pakistanis respect will be to simply annihilate the game of development with skill & authority. People like winners; I think you will find this to be true for Pakistanis also. Many of them now cheer for China [age of the internet – what a funny thing huh? Now everybody get’s to read about global strategy if they have the sufficient wires]. A country that has appalling circumstances for it’s minority Muslims [forget the integrated Han “Muslims”. They really only go by the title in name only. Though I guess there are a small number who keep the faith/customs].

    I guarantee you if BD begins high-tech manufacturing, develops a diversified export-oriented [because everyone can “see” the goodies; primitive I know] economy, has great HDI indices, has a strong military [yes, yes, I know. But still. We ARE talking about Muslim countries here. No strong military, you look like a weakling. It just doesn’t look very “Muslim”. Again, primitive, I know.], then as a “Muslim” country that used to once be a colony of Pakistan, more Pakistanis will cheer for BD than they ever will with a couple of “peace offerings”. Just as long as we don’t make fun of their drone strikes or baacha baazi stuff at the same time as we’re coming up.

    That might make you feel uncomfortable [after all, shouldn’t Islamic “brothers” support you win, lose or draw?]. But that’s the way it is.

    Have a good weekend folks.

    [*1] Incidentally, can’t we start diversifying our alliances a little? Or making existing relationships stronger? Malaysia? Indonesia? Cambodia? Just spit-balling here!

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  16. Jaladin said, on February 14, 2014 at 7:45 am

    I think there is some truth in the notion that the Pakistani Punjabis & Pakthuns had that the Bengalis were “less aggressive”. In general we do have a tendency to be a little too docile or timid. Look at sports, for example. We generally don’t have a “let’s take it to them” approach in doing anything. I really can’t imagine us saying, “we’ll eat nothing but grass to get the [atomic] bomb”, and then sticking to it.

    In the latter case, that’s probably a good thing. But with other types of achievement, I don’t think it is. There’s a tendency I feel among our academic classes [based solely on my own experience, so I can’t claim it is representative] to view all types of aggression as a bad thing. Anytime you have someone who is going out there to really “stick it to them”, you are seen as some uncivilised barbarian. They forget that there is a difference between chaotic aggression and controlled, disciplined aggression. Aggressiveness need not be a bad thing, when we use it to our advantage.

    I only write this to clarify some positions of mine with respect to stereotypes we have of Pakistanis, & the reverse stereotypes they have of us.

  17. Juru ◐ Bangla ◐ Nobu said, on March 3, 2014 at 8:31 am

    Gimme a break, author.

    You write:

    ▶ Azad’s story is an example of the casual bigotry. Take away his polemics and literary fireworks, and what remains: at a university dorm, a Pakistani guy is trying to hook up with a French girl, and Azad beats him to it with his knowledge of French poetry. Try to see the story from the Pakistani guy’s perspective — he meets the girl first, maybe he is trying to impress her with his knowledge of French football, and here comes this other guy and starts talking about poetry… What if the Pakistani guy writes a story about ‘the perfidious Bengali’? ◀

    So 2 guys are chasing a girl. One guy wins out. He happens to be Bangladeshi, and the loser happens to be Pakistani. Because of this, the Pakistani labels all Bengali’s “perfidious”? I’m confused. Who exactly is the a∗∗hole in this scenario?

    So because the other guy was Pakistani, Azad should have just stepped aside and “let him through”, I suppose?

    Lemme ask you this. If the other dude was Indian, would you recommend the same advice? Please. It’d be “all’s fair in love and war”, same as it is with a person of any other nation. Why the hell should a Pakistani be so special in this regard?

    OK… maybe the guy Azad is a bit of a jack∗∗s. He represents himself only. Let’s take what he did as being “perfidious”. Truth is, he probably would have done this with any other guy. What guy you know is gonna chase a hot French chick solely for the purpose of irritating a Pakistani? GTFOH! Could have been an American (or a Russian or a Chinese) and I bet Azad would have done the same. So why dish out the Pakistani fellow any special treatment?

    It’s your type of attitude that is the reason Pakistani’s went on a rape/killing/destruction spree. They felt they had a “special” right or privilege to be in power. And guys like you fed it. Yes, we compete with India. Guess what pal, we also compete with Pakistan (and Australia & the UK & USA etc.). That’s just what nations do. There is no good reason to particularly move aside for a Pakistani than an Indian, a Chinese or an American. The day that guys like you get that through your greasy AmlaTel©-stained heads, the better.

    You’re right about one thing. You were born in a free Bangladesh. So you have the luxury of not knowing what those lovely Pakistani military folks would have done to you (or your immediate family) thanks to a bunch of crazy patriots that decided enough was enough. Now THAT, bhai, is a privilege.

    You say you want a “holocaust-style” museum in Pakistan? That will be enough, huh?


    Yeah, good luck with that, pal. Took them 30+years to put it in a (much neutered) public report. And even that version was argued over endlessly.

    I’ll give you some advice, bhai. STOP WORRYING WHAT PAKISTANIS THINK OF YOU (konno laab nai). Stop worrying what anyone else, in fact, thinks of you. Just get on with the business of improving your life and those of the ones surrounding you (in a Bangladeshi context, that would be Bangladesh I guess). And let those humble Pakistani folks take their sweet time with any “apology” or acknowledgement. At least it might have a better chance of being genuine.

    In the meantime, at least WE win out (net result). Surely the best answer to 1971 is the slogan (backed up by performance), “you didn’t kill us ▬ you only made us stronger”. THAT is something I’m sure every patriot who died in ’71 (you know, the folks who gave their lives so guys like you and me could be born into a free Bangladesh) would be proud of. Let’s concentrate on making THEM happy first.

    We’ll worry about the rest……… later.

    You have a very nice, helpful blog here. I appreciate your commitment to critical thinking, and of course you have informed opinions, not just loud-mouthed tautology.

    But this was not your finest point.

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