a) IS was?: On Islamic State’s defeat

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory over the Islamic State, signalling an end to more than three years of battle that saw Iraqi troops first fleeing without their weapons and then, with foreign assistance, regrouping to recover lost territory. At the peak of its influence, the IS controlled almost a third of Iraq, including Mosul, its second largest city. Mr. Abadi, who took over as Prime Minister in September 2014 when the country was in the middle of the civil war, adopted a cautious, gradualist approach with direct help from the United States and Iran to take on the IS. Iraqi troops first stopped the IS’s southward expansion in the suburbs of Baghdad and then started offensive operations in the group’s small pockets of influence. After capturing cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraqi troops moved to Mosul, the jewel in the IS crown. Iran-trained Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga troops joined the ground battle, as the U.S. provided air cover. When Mosul was liberated in July after nine months of fighting, it was arguable whether a final victory over the IS was just a matter of time. Mr. Abadi claims Iraqi soldiers have established control over the vast Iraq-Syria border after ousting IS fighters from small border towns where they had retreated after losing urban areas. For Mr. Abadi and the Iraqi military, this is a moment of both relief and accomplishment. But it may be far too simplistic to conclude that Iraq is totally rid of the IS threat. Perhaps a greater challenge they face is healing the wounds of the civil war. Iraq is a divided country today. The resource-rich south, which is mostly Shia, supports the government and is relatively peaceful. In the war-stricken north and west, there is no doubting that people feel alienated from the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. The Kurdish Autonomous Region has already held a referendum, against the wishes of Baghdad, in which a majority of voters supported independence. If the government fails to tackle these divisions and lets parts of the country drift into anarchy again, groups like the IS will find it an easy breeding ground and regain a footing. The IS may have lost territory, but it would be blind to deny that the group doesn’t exist anymore. It is not known, for instance, what happened to its self-declared Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In Syria it still controls territory, even if it is under growing pressure of Russian-American bombing and Kurdish attacks. In 2006-07, al-Qaeda in Iraq had faced similar military setbacks. But when Iraq’s sectarian rivalry took a turn for the worse and civil war broke out in Syria, it regrouped and reinvented itself as the IS. Mr. Abadi has to see that this doesn’t repeat itself. In order to do so, he must, besides keeping the military on alert, reach out to the country’s disaffected Sunnis and Kurds. Only a united Iraq can hold off the resurrection of the extremists.

b) The facts do not matter

The most surprising thing about these Gujarat elections is that people are so surprised at the Prime Minister’s rhetoric. Narendra Modi has eschewed all talk of development, and has played to the worst impulses of the Gujarati people. His main tool is Hindu-Muslim polarisation, which is reflected in the language he uses for his opponents. The Congress has a “Mughlai” mentality, they are ushering in an “Aurangzeb Raj”, and their top leaders are conspiring with Pakistan to make sure Mr. Modi loses. A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson has also launched a scathing attack on Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi. None of this is new. Mr. Modi’s rhetoric in the heat of campaigning has always come from below. From his references to “Mian Musharraf” over a decade ago to the “kabristan-shamshaan” comments of the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh, it has been clear that the otherness of Muslims is central to the BJP playbook. Hate drives more people to the polling booth than warm, fuzzy feelings of pluralism. But, the question is, are the Congress leaders really conspiring with Pakistan to make sure the BJP lose? Answer: It doesn’t matter.

No care for truth

In 1986, the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt wrote an essay named “On Bullshit”, which was published as a book in 2005 and became a surprise bestseller. The book attempts to arrive at “a theoretical understanding of bullshit”. The key difference between a liar and a , ‘bullshitter’, Frankfurt tells us, is that the liar knows the truth and aims to deceive. The ‘bullshitter’, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the truth. He is “neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false,” in Frankfurt’s words. “His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.” The ‘bullshitter’ is wise, for he has cottoned on to an important truth that has become more and more glaring in these modern times: that facts don’t matter. And to understand why, I ask you to go back with me in time to another seminal book, this one published in 1922. The first chapter of “Public Opinion”, by the American journalist, Walter Lippmann, is titled “The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads”. In it, Lippmann makes the point that all of us have a version of the world inside our heads that resembles, but is not identical to, the world as it is. “The real environment,” he writes, “is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance.”  We construct a version of the world in our heads, and feed that version, for modifying it too much will require too much effort. If facts conflict with it, we ignore those facts, and accept only those that conform to our worldview. (Cognitive psychologists call this the “Confirmation Bias”.)  Lippmann sees this as a challenge for democracy, for how are we to elect our leaders if we cannot comprehend the impact they will have on the world?

Fragmented media

I would argue that this is a far greater problem today than it was in Lippmann’s time. Back then, and until a couple of decades ago, there was a broad consensus on the truth. There were gatekeepers to information and knowledge. Even accounting for biases, the mainstream media agreed on some basic facts. That has changed. The media is fragmented, there are no barriers to entry, and the mainstream media no longer has a monopoly of the dissemination of information. This is a good thing, with one worrying side effect: whatever beliefs or impulses we might have — the earth is flat, the Jews carried out 9/11, India is a Hindu nation — we can find plenty of “evidence” for it online, and connect with like-minded people. Finding others who share our beliefs makes us more strident, and soon we form multiple echo chambers that become more and more extreme. Polarisation increases. The space in the middle disappears. And the world inside our heads, shared by so many other, becomes impervious to facts. This also means that impulses we would otherwise not express in polite society find validation, and a voice. Here’s another book you should read: in 1997, the sociologist, Timur Kuran, wrote “Private Truths, Public Lies” in which he coined the term “Preference Falsification”. There are many things we feel or believe but do not express because we fear social approbation. But as soon as we realise that others share our views, we are emboldened to express ourselves. This leads to a “Preference Cascade”: Kuran gives the example of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but an equally apt modern illustration is the rise of right-wing populists everywhere. I believe — and I apologise if this is too depressing to contemplate — that the majority of us are bigots, misogynists, racists, and tribal in our thinking. We have always been this way, but because liberal elites ran the media, and a liberal consensus seemed to prevail, we did not express these feelings. Social media showed us that we were not alone, and gave us the courage to express ourselves. That’s where Donald Trump comes from. That’s where Mr. Modi comes from. Our masses vote for these fine gentlemen not in spite of their bigotry and misogyny, but because of it. Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi provide them a narrative that feeds the world inside their heads. Mexicans are rapists, foreigners are bad, Muslims are stealing our girls, gaumutra cures cancer — and so on. The truth is irrelevant. Facts. Don’t. Matter. Think about the implication of this. This means that the men and women who wrote the Constitution were an out-of-touch elite, and the values they embedded in it were not shared by most of the nation. (As a libertarian, I think the Constitution was deeply flawed because it did not do enough to protect individual rights, but our society’s consensus would probably be that it did too much.) The “Idea of India” that these elites spoke of was never India’s Idea of India. These “liberal” values were imposed on an unwilling nation — and are such imposition, ironically, not deeply illiberal itself? This is what I call The Liberal Paradox. All the ugliness in our politics today is the ugliness of the human condition. This is how we are. This is not a perversion of democracy but an expression of it. Those of us who are saddened by it — the liberal elites, libertarians like me — have to stop feeling entitled, and get down to work. The alt-right guru Andrew Breitbart once said something I never get tired of quoting: “Politics is downstream from Culture.” A political victory will now not come until there is a social revolution. Where will it begin?


1) Fleeing

Meaning: Run away from a place or situation of danger.

Example: “to escape the fighting, his family fled from their village”

Synonyms: Escape, Abscond

2) Liberated

Meaning: Set (someone) free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression.

Example: “the serfs had been liberated”

Synonyms: Release, Discharge

Antonyms: Confine, Enslave

3) Ousting

Meaning: Drive out or expel (someone) from a position or place.

Example: “the reformists were ousted from power”

Synonyms: Expel, Remove

4) Simplistic

Meaning: Treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are.

Example: “simplistic solutions”

Synonyms: Facile, Superficial

5) Anarchy

Meaning: A state of disorder due to absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems.

Example: “he must ensure public order in a country threatened with anarchy”

Synonyms: Disorder, Revolution

Antonyms: Government, Order

6) Breeding ground

Meaning: A place or situation that favours the development or occurrence of something.

Example: “the situation is a breeding ground for political unrest”

7) Footing

Meaning: The position or status of a person in relation to others.

Example: “the suppliers are on an equal footing with the buyers”

Synonyms: Standing, Status

8) Caliph

Meaning: The chief Muslim civil and religious ruler, regarded as the successor of Muhammad. The caliph ruled in Baghdad until 1258 and then in Egypt until the Ottoman conquest of 1517; the title was then held by the Ottoman sultans until it was abolished in 1924 by Atatürk.

9) Resurrection

Meaning: The revitalization or revival of something.

Example: “the resurrection of the country under a charismatic leader”

Synonyms: Revival, Restoration

10) Ushering

Meaning: Show or guide (someone) somewhere.

Example: “a waiter ushered me to a table”

Synonyms: Escort, Accompany

11) Conspiring

Meaning: Make secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act.

Example: “they conspired against him”

Synonyms: Scheme, Intrigue

12) Otherness

Meaning: The quality or fact of being different.

Example: “the developed world has been celebrating African music while altogether denying its otherness”

13) Fuzzy

Meaning: Difficult to perceive; indistinct or vague.

Example: “the picture is very fuzzy”

Synonyms: Blurry, Blurred

Antonyms: Clear, Sharp

14) Bullshit

Meaning: Complete nonsense or something that is not true; to try to persuade someone or make them admire you by saying things that are not true.

Example: He gave me some excuse but it was a load of bullshit.

Synonyms: Tricking

15) Deceive

Meaning: Deliberately cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, especially for personal gain.

Example: “I didn’t intend to deceive people into thinking it was French champagne”

Synonyms: Swindle, Defraud

16) Insofar as

Meaning: To the extent that.

Example: “the play was a great success so far as attendance was concerned”

17) Pertinent

Meaning: Relevant or applicable to a particular matter; apposite.

Example: “she asked me a lot of very pertinent questions”

Synonyms: Relevant, Apposite

Antonyms: Irrelevant, Inappropriate

18) Cottoned on

Meaning: To begin to understand a situation or fact

Example: I’d only just cottoned on to the fact that they were having a relationship.

19) Glaring

Meaning: Highly obvious or conspicuous.

Example: “there is a glaring omission in the data”

Synonyms: Obvious, Obtrusive

Antonyms: Inconspicuous, Minor

20) Acquaintance

Meaning: Knowledge or experience of something.

Example: “the pupils had little acquaintance with the language”

Synonyms: Familiarity, Contact

21) Conflict

Meaning: A prolonged armed struggle.

Example: “regional conflicts”

Synonyms: War, Action

Antonyms: Peace

22) Comprehend

Meaning: Include, comprise, or encompass.

Example: “a divine order comprehending all men”

Synonyms: Comprise, Include

Antonyms: Exclude

23) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: “there is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed”

Synonyms: Agreement, Concord

Antonyms: Disagreement

24) Fragmented

Meaning: Break or cause to break into fragments.

Example: “Lough Erne fragmented into a series of lakes”

Synonyms: Break, Explode

25) Barriers

Meaning: A circumstance or obstacle that keeps people or things apart or prevents communication or progress.

Example: “a language barrier”

Synonyms: Obstacle, Hurdle

26) Dissemination

Meaning: The act of spreading something, especially information, widely; circulation.

Example: “dissemination of public information”

Synonyms: Distribution, Dispersal

27) Impulses

Meaning: A sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.

Example: “I had an almost irresistible impulse to giggle”

Synonyms: Urge, Instinct

28) Like-minded

Meaning: Having similar tastes or opinions.

Example: “a radio ham with like-minded friends all over the world”

29) Strident

Meaning: (of a sound) loud and harsh; grating.

Example: “his voice had become increasingly strident”

Synonyms: Harsh, Grating

Antonyms: Soft, Dulcet

30) Impervious

Meaning: Unable to be affected by.

Example: “he worked, apparently impervious to the heat”

Synonyms: Unaffected by, Immune to

Antonyms: Receptive to, Susceptible to

31) Approbation

Meaning: Approval or praise.

Example: “a term of approbation”

Synonyms: Approval, Acceptance

Antonyms: Criticism

32) Emboldened

Meaning: Give (someone) the courage or confidence to do something.

Example: “emboldened by the claret, he pressed his knee against hers”

Synonyms: Encourage, Strengthen

Antonyms: Dishearten, Discourage

33) Right-wing

Meaning: Conservative or reactionary.

Example: “a right-wing Republican senator”

Synonyms: Conservative, Rightist

Antonyms: Radical

34) Bigots

Meaning: A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions.

Example: “don’t let a few small-minded bigots destroy the good image of the city”

Synonyms: Partisan, Sectarian

35) Misogynists

Meaning: A person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.

Example: “a bachelor and renowned misogynist”

Synonyms: Woman-hater, Anti-feminist

36) Racists

Meaning: A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

Example: “I had a fear of being called a racist”

Synonyms: Intolerant, Illiberal

Antonyms: Multicultural, Tolerant

37) Out-of-touch

Meaning: Not informed or not having the same ideas as most people about something, so that you make mistakes.

Example: A few of the older teachers are completely out of touch with their students.

38) Flawed

Meaning: Having or characterized by a fundamental weakness or imperfection.

Example: “a fatally flawed strategy”

Synonyms: Unsound, Defective

Antonyms: Sound

39) Paradox

Meaning: A seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.

Example: “the uncertainty principle leads to all sorts of paradoxes, like the particles being in two places at once”

Synonyms: Contradiction, Conflict

40) Saddened

Meaning: Cause to feel sorrow; make unhappy.

Example: “he was greatly saddened by the death of his only son”

Synonyms: Depress, Dispirit

Antonyms: Cheer up

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