Opium of the Masses?
Posted April 18, 2011on:
In December 2009, Karin’s scathing review of Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book Three Cups of Tea was written up on this Blog. She drew sharp criticism from some American friends who were shocked that she dared to question what was obviously such a wonderful and encouraging story about building schools in Pakistan and central Asia. Much to our surprise, a Pakistani mentioned prominently in the book, Ghulam Parvi, responded to the Blog post. Not only did he agree with Karin but stated that many of the claims made by Mortenson were actually false.
We have been involved for over a year in making futile appeals to foreign journalists to investigate Parvi’s allegations and expose Mortenson if, indeed, the allegations were true. Many of our appeals seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. But one of the commentators on our Blog, an American woman living in Mortenson’s town and who herself visited the schools in Pakistan, took up Parvi’s allegations. She contacted Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute directly, as well as former employees, and pursued the story with the dedication that we were incapable of.
Last night CBS Television in the US did an expose of Mortenson in their program “60 Minutes”. (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363068n)
Today, we read of it on the BBC:
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/world-south-asia-13112799 >
Perseverance sometimes pays off!
But now I want to turn to another area of mindless gullibility. One of the blessings of having been away in March, was that I missed entirely the cricket World Cup hosted in India and Sri Lanka. Both host nations made it to the finals, with India winning. Ever since Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, the attraction of the game has palled for me.
Cricket in Sri Lanka has become so politicized and commercialised, with the administration of the game in the hands of politicians and their stooges. Corruption and nepotism are rife. Massive amounts of funds are diverted into building showpiece stadiums around the island. The sports minister recently admitted that Sri Lanka cricket is saddled with a US $23 million debt after cost overruns and hefty bills incurred building stadiums for the recent World Cup. Very little of the money that is poured into the game trickles down to the poor or to develop public infrastructure.
What is true of Sri Lanka also applies to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The game attracts gambling syndicates, criminal gangs and TV moghuls. It leads to an almost total neglect of other, less costly, sports. It encourages the mindless chauvinism that equates a nation’s greatness with the performance of eleven men on a cricket pitch. The mindlessness is taken to new heights in the Indian Premier League which invites cricketers from all over the world to become virtual prostitutes, paying them huge salaries to play a bowdlerized version of the game (called 20-20). The latter comes replete with American-type “cheerleaders”; all fair-skinned Indian women, even some foreigners, aping their American counterparts. The ridiculous has become sublime.
In other words, cricket has become the “bread and circuses” that increasingly masked the oppressions and decadence of the Roman empire. In our case, there isn’t even bread, only the circuses.
Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be that which Karl Marx used of religion. As the new religion of the Indian subcontinent, cricket has become the “opium of the masses”. Lulled into a make-believe world, millions of the urban poor congregate around their collective TV sets, thus creating an illusory sense of national unity. The more cricket is on the TV, the less time to agitate on the streets against the cruel indignities of work or the humiliations of chronic unemployment. Like soccer and royal weddings in the UK, I suppose.
What sport do I enjoy watching the most today? One that is almost impossible to catch on South Asian TV channels, because it is the least commercialized and politicized- international Rugby Union. I never tire of watching the southern hemisphere teams, and especially the New Zealand All Blacks, my favourites. Rugby may be the religion of New Zealand, but that’s their problem, not mine! All I can say is, Roll on, the Rugby World Cup!