Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for June 2022

I have often bemoaned the misleading rhetoric and double standards involved on both sides of the abortion debate in the US and elsewhere. My most recent foray was what I wrote a week before the last American presidential election (see “Re-Visiting ‘Public Reason’”, 25 October 2020).

The biggest tragedy is that rational “debate” is actually absent on both sides of the Atlantic. Liberal news media such as the BBC, for all their public posturing as balanced and rational voices, have whipped up frenzy over the U.S Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe vs Wade, irresponsibly referring to it as a “ban on abortion” and refusing to address the moral and legal complexity of the issue. This is the mirror-image of right-wing media such as Fox News. (I often feel like banging the heads of so-called conservatives and progressives in the U.S and pronouncing a “plague on both your houses”.) One longs for another Orwell to discipline our language in these days of insane politics!

Recall the late Zygmunt Bauman’s quip that, in postmodern ethics, Descartes’ cogito (“I think, therefore I am”) has been replaced by its neo-tribal version “I shout, therefore I am.” The one who shouts loudest, whether on social media or in the university, is the new moral leader. Paradoxically, tolerance is killed in the name of promoting tolerance, intellectual diversity suppressed in the name of valuing diversity.

I have, from time to time, argued on this Blog that the moral arguments against abortion should not ignore the legal challenge to protect both mother and child and ensure that poor women, in particular, are not victimized. The left-liberal chorus, on the other hand, needs to stop using such inane expressions as “the right to choose” and “reproductive rights” and accept that we are dealing here with the moral worth of two human persons at different stages of their human development. The fundamental right of a pregnant woman to understand what she carries in her womb, and the various options open to her, has been obfuscated (ironically) by many who claim to speak for such women.

I live in a country where abortion, on any grounds, is illegal. Despite this, abortions are performed routinely by some doctors as well as back-street quacks. Women are told that what they are undergoing is a “minor surgical operation” or “womb cleansing” or “menstrual regulation”. I don’t know any self-styled radical feminist who has openly confronted such deception of women by some in the medical profession.

As for the Republican lobby in the US, many of us are befuddled as to how a “pro-life” agenda re abortion can be combined with anti-gun control, anti-social welfare, and support for American militarism and the practice of torture and targeted assassinations by American allies (not least, Israel). Isn’t this a case of Orwellian “double-speak”?

If “guns don’t kill people, only people do”, why not apply the same logic to say that “abortion clinics don’t kill babies, only people do”- and, instead of banning them, persuade people not to go to such clinics by giving good reasons and providing alternatives in a civil manner?

In a Blog post of 13 February 2020 I suggested that Western Christians should not seek to return their countries to the age of back-street abortions. Also, that if the dominant secular culture in North America and Europe sees “pro-life” rhetoric tied to a right-wing political agenda, it will only deepen the popular resentment towards Christians. I wrote: “We would have won a battle only to have lost the larger war. Christians should work for cultural change which would make abortion unthinkable, by most people and in most circumstances, whether or not it is illegal.”

As for politically conservative Christians in the U.S, they can become more winsome and credible by being consistently “pro-life” and also being more willing to learn from non-Christians as well as other Christians. And the place to begin is by switching off from their parochial media networks, shutting down their white sectarian colleges and seminaries, living in ethnically and religiously mixed neighbourhoods, and joining the mainstream of cultural and social life. That is how the rest of us live.

The British government is currently mired in a legal imbroglio over its plan to deport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The controversial plan has divided the public, and all the Bishops in the House of Lords have denounced it. I do not fully share the thinking of the Bishops and do not wish to wade into these muddy waters; but simply to draw attention to the way the language and assumptions in these debates are often misleading.

The common distinction made between “legal” and “illegal” asylum-seekers is spurious. An asylum seeker enters a legal process which determines whether or not s/he is to receive refugee status. A person fleeing for his/her life from a conflict zone or the secret police usually has neither the time nor the resources to apply for an entry visa at another country’s embassy; and, in any case, visa applications even for tourism or social visits to Western nations are tedious, expensive, and often humiliating. Under international law, all of us have a human right to exit our country of birth or residence. But there is no corresponding right of entry to another particular country. Therein lies the rub.

Rwanda’s attraction to the British government is that it has a better record than most in receiving and protecting refugees from other African countries. There are legal safeguards for refugees, including freedom of movement and the right to work. On the other hand, it has a high rate of unemployment and a dubious human rights record, and has also been accused of targeting Rwandan refugees who have fled abroad.

The British Home Secretary (herself born into an Indian family that came to the UK from Uganda in the 1970s) believes that such an immigration policy will deter “bogus” asylum-seekers from coming to Britain on boats. This may well turn out to be the case, but it is extremely doubtful whether Rwanda or any other African country has the means to determine who is “bogus” and who is not. (As for the unscrupulous profiteers from people smuggling, I have never understood why the British and French police and navies cannot get their act together and track these people.) And, as the case of Ukrainian refuges has shown, there is a strong element of racism here in who is welcome and who is not.

The large-scale displacement of persons has its origins in the First World War and the draconian measures Western nations installed, including the visa system and the carving out of national borders and colonial mandates in North Africa and the Middle East. A fair number of the conflicts raging today in the world have their origins in Western colonial histories. And, of course, global warming has created huge numbers of environmental refugees. In 2009, the G8 nations promised $100 billion a year in aid to poor nations to help build resilience against the disastrous effects of climate change. A mere trickle of that money has materialised. Today’s BBC carries a reminder of how poor nations continue to feel betrayed by the West ( in this regard.

So, can we honestly discuss the problem of asylum-seekers and refugees without attending to such betrayals and hypocrisies, widening economic exploitation and environmental devastation in the Global South- as well as the deluge of arms shipments from the West (and Russia and Israel) into conflict situations and the strengthening of repressive regimes around the world?

Surely, these problems are all inter-connected. The future wellbeing of humanity (and the non-human creation) depends on fresh initiatives in multilateral disarmament, the effective regulation of finance-dominated capitalism, more widespread electrification generated by renewable sources- and, above all, the injection of moral thinking into nationalist politics.



June 2022