Over the last few weeks, two semi-autonomous states have been locked in conflict with a larger nation of which they are, theoretically, a part. But I would bet you’ve only heard about one of those conflicts.
The two “states” -- I use the term loosely, for simplicity -- are Hong Kong and Kashmir.
Their situation is similar in several ways.
Hong Kong was once an independent British colony, Britain’s affluent doorway to the Orient. It was turned over to China in 1997, under a guarantee that it would retain political independence.
Kashmir was also once an independent kingdom within the British Empire. It was the favorite place for British civil servants, military officers, and business executives to escape the heat and humidity of Indian summers. They could rent a houseboat on idyllic Dal Lake, go hiking in the Himalayas…
Kashmir was everyone’s Shangri-La.
When India gained independence in 1947, the king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, himself a Hindu, opted for India rather than Pakistan -- even though over two-thirds of Kashmir’s population was Muslim.
In return, his former kingdom was granted more autonomy than any other Indian province. Just as Hong Kong was guaranteed a level of democracy that the rest of China does not enjoy.
But China then unilaterally imposed new rules. And India rescinded Section 370 of its Constitution, unilaterally revoking Kashmir’s special status.
Despite those similarities, their situations are also strikingly different.
Hong Kong is a thriving hub of international business. Kashmir is a backwater, even by Indian standards.
Hong Kong has world-class communications. Kashmir has frequent power failures. Internet communication, iffy at any time, has been shut down completely by Indian forces. So have telephones. And the post office -- you can’t even send out a scenic postcard!
In Hong Kong, almost everyone speaks English, the result of 156 years of British rule. In Kashmir, only the educated class speaks English.
And Hong Kong is home to about 300,000 Canadians -- many sent as children to Canadian high schools in the 1980s to provide an escape plan for their parents in case the handover to China went badly. According to Global Affairs Canada, Kashmir has just 12 Canadian residents.
Therefore it’s natural, even inevitable, that our media would concentrate on Hong Kong and ignore Kashmir.
But I contend that Kashmir is actually the far more dangerous situation.
Both India and Pakistan claim the whole historic kingdom of Kashmir. Pakistan currently controls about a third of the area; India controls slightly more than half. China occupies the remainder, bordering on Tibet.
India and Pakistan have already fought three wars over Kashmir. Both maintain a strong military presence; Forbes describes Kashmir as “the most militarized state in the world.” Over 70,000 Kashmiris have died in territorial conflicts.
The Indian-controlled zone has one soldier for every eight Kashmiris -- dramatically different from Hong Kong, where the Chinese military has, so far, remained outside the region. I couldn’t get a figure on the Pakistani military presence, in its territory, but it will be comparable.
India and Pakistan don’t trust each other. Animosities still linger from the bloody partition of the Indian sub-continent into Hindu and Muslim states, in 1947, when about two million died in religious violence, and 15 million were displaced.
One of my former classmates still recalls riding a train where at one stop gangs of Muslims rampaged through the carriages, killing anyone they believed to be Hindu. And at the next stop, gangs of Hindus did the same to Muslims.
Hatreds still run deep.
Worth dying for
Kashmir has one more factor that makes it vastly more incendiary than Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s protests are about an abstract concept -- democracy. The Kashmir divide centres on religion, which is anything but an abstract concept. It is deeply personal. Religious loyalties do not lend themselves to compromise. Passions can be easily inflamed. Religion -- as suicide bombers have demonstrated over and over -- is worth dying for.
Pakistanis will riot -- and have rioted -- if they feel a Hindu nation is mistreating other Muslims. The government of Pakistan will feel forced to intervene. Which would provoke further repression by India.
And both nations have nuclear weapons.
Not that they’re likely to waste nuclear weapons on Kashmir itself -- a region with nothing of value but beauty. But if either side feels the conflict is going against them, they might be tempted to balance the scales with a nuclear strike on Mumbai or Delhi, Lahore or Karachi.
By comparison with that potential outcome, the Hong Kong protests look almost innocuous.
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Last week’s column, about the pro’s and con’s of trying to re-program people’s minds, started off with a glaring error. Sheila Carey was the first to point out that “Prince Albert is in Saskatchewan, St. Albert in Alberta.”
Ruth Griffiths and Clare Neufeld also drew my mistake to my attention -- somewhat gleefully, I think.
Ken DeLisle supported my opposition to conversion therapy for gays: “I am a Diaconal Minister in the United Church serving in Winnipeg. I am a gay man who did conversion therapy by choice, in the early ‘70s because I desperately (at that time) wanted to be straight. I was pronounced ‘cured’ but am glad to say I came back to being me, the person God created. My husband and I have been together 40 years and have had 8 foster children over that time.
“The theory [behind conversion therapy] is to punish people enough and they will change, into what YOU want them to be. Why not love them enough to help them and encourage them to be what God called them to be? One is easy because professionals will deal with ‘them’. The other is harder because we all need to do it.”
Ted Wilson asked, “Don’t we start ‘programing’ our children as babies to be like us? That would make Dylan’s ‘The times they are a changin’,’ a re-programing of our generation. Or was it an observation of existing re-programing that was having its own profound effect? Whatever the case, in order to move forward we need to be able to think outside the box. It’s more a questioning how much and where rather than having none at all.”
Tom Watson found my argument sound: “But say you know someone, or a group of someones, who are white supremacists, who advocate shooting up mosques and Walmarts, or write hate messages on social media. I get it that you wouldn't support conversion therapy for these folks but what do you do? Just say, ‘It's okay. Do whatever you want. We'll deal with the carnage you leave in your wake’? It strikes me that isn't a very helpful approach, so I'm left not knowing what you would see as helpful.”
I didn’t have any answers for Tom. I suppose I support some equivalent to conversion therapy or re-programming as a means of dealing with those whose actions will harm others, but not for those whose delusions harm no one but themselves. But I don’t know where to draw that line.
I told Tom, “I suspect the key line in my text was almost unintentional: ‘It all depends on who's in charge.’ I like to assume that the ‘who's in charge’ will be people like me. But maybe they won't be.”
James West was also confused by my conclusion. He wondered if I endorsed re-programming for mathematicians who make use of the square root of minus-one.
After I admitted to being confused myself, James wrote, “One of my prayers is that God would protect me from people who want to do me good. Another is to stop me from trying to re-program others.”
John Hatchard wrote quite extensively about his experiences, as a youth, with friends who might, or might not, have been gay. He summarized, “All I know is that this has never been a matter of any importance to me. Among the many friends I have had over the years there have been some of the ‘other’ kind who have been great friends, amazing people playing an invaluable part in my life.”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.