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Critique of Harpers Magazine Hitpiece on Nepal Maoists

by Toni Sweep Tuesday, May. 03, 2005 at 4:40 AM

Refuting the lies of "It's Not Easy Here in Katmandu: Caught between the Maoist Rebels and the king"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

YO! BACK THAT $!*# UP...

...or refutation of the week

"It's Not Easy Here in Katmandu: Caught between the Maoist Rebels and the king's army" by Eliza Griswold (Harpers, May 2005)


For quite some time now, there have been these seemingly liberal, humanitarian articles that slander genuine revolutionary movements. It's often done under the guise of reporting on "the people caught in the middle." The basic thrust is that some group starts a revolution--"the terrorists"--and then the state comes down on that group getting more and more brutal as the revolutionary forces grow stronger, and in turn the revolution grows more and more brutal in response, “eating its children” as it were. Soon villagers alternately feel the terror of the revolutionaries and the state army. More or less that's the thesis.

So with that as a preface let's jump in.

IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING...or the Shangri-Hell of feudalism

The article starts with an anecdote about how in the 13th century the Malla family came from India and founded the Nepal kingdom:

"Every day...the Malla king is said to have climbed to the top of his nine-story pagoda and peered down into his happy valley of serfs. If smoke wasn't rising from each chimney, the kindhearted king dispatched a scout to see what was wrong. That, people say, is how peaceful the Katmandu valley should be when held in the palm of a benevolent monarch." (p. 64, emphasis added)

Griswold's preparation for this article would have been better spent investigating the brutal feudal history of Nepal than consulting fairly tales. To speak of "his happy serfs" and a "kindhearted king" smacks of such chauvinism that it's a bit jarring. This decription is incredibly offensive. The peoples of Nepal have suffered immensely for centuries under these feudal kings. To quote Griswold herself:

"Until two years ago, bonded labor was legal in Nepal. In some cases, families have worked generations to pay off a debt of three dollars." (p. 71)

She also points out how slavery wasn't even abolished until 1924!

One only has to look at the horrific caste system or the treatment of women or the exploitation of peasants. The list goes on and on. But I think a Nepali proverb bluntly captures some of this horror: "To be born as a daughter is having ill fate."

One thing we can thank Griswold for is putting it right out there. Her solution to the ongoing the civil war? The good ole days of a benevolent monarch. As she puts it later "some form of constitutional monarchy is likely to be crucial to a stable Nepal." (p.67) Eliza, helping us build that bridge to the 13th century.

I love how these people talk about how a Maoist revolution "seems anachronistic" and yet a king in the 21st century? Oh, that makes perfect sense.

As Griswold make perfectly clear, she envisions a future that's Maoists-free:

"Given that the Maoists hold power in seventy-three of seventy-five of Nepal's political districts, rejecting them isn't an option just yet." (p. 67, emphasis added)

It might seem contradictory to write a “caught in the middle” piece while upholding the king but two things should be pointed out. First, when these types of articles speak of peace they speak of the "peace" that existed before people righteously rose up in rebellion against their oppression. So the "peace" they speak of is really looking back to when the state had a monopoly on force and the people couldn't do anything about it except live under the boot of the state. Second, Griswold at the very least implies that the king may not totally be in control:

“backed militarily by both America and India…the army answers to no one but the king, if, indeed, the king doesn’t answer to the army. (p. 66)

And later she quotes Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch who says that the royal coup was “less about the king’s power grab than the army’s…” (p. 67)

As a bit of a sidenote, Bouckaert just baldy states that “No one wants to abandon Nepal to the Maoists…” (p.67) Also Bouckaert’s objection to what the U.S. is doing in Nepal is largely based on the idea that it’s undermining the U.S.’s ability to carry out its War on Terrorism:

“What’s happening in Nepal has a direct relationship to the rest of the War on Terror. The United States’ actions have undermined its ability to raise any kind of objections.” (p. 67)

So much for the nonpartisanship of the NGOs!

HAVING PRINCIPLES, STRUGGLING FOR EQUALITY... or the “terror” of the Maoists

Griswold describes the two Nepals as Katmandu--which I think she's confused for a Starbucks, "high-speed internet and 'Hima-lattes'”--and the countryside beyond, held by the Maoists, where there are no hospitals or roads. We’ll ignore this ridiculous image of Katmandu (need Griswold be reminded that Nepal is the second-poorest country in the world?) and move on to the countryside where the Maoists have actually started to build roads and even hospitals where their power is more stable. Later on Griswold admits that the Maoists were building roads and bridges even before they initiated people's war. Of course, Griswold bends the truth some in that process of letting that be known:

"The Maoists stepped into a vacuum, building bridges and roads and establishing infrastructure where the state never had. Then, of course, they called for violent revolution.

"In response, the government waged several disastrous campaigns, most notable Operation Romeo in 1995, which...resulted in 'rapes, executions, and "disappearances."' (p. 66)

Just to be clear this Operation was launched before the initiation of the Maoist people's war, which was in 1996. And as for the rapes, executions and "disappearances" this was exactly the intent of this murderous campaign! This was not some campaign spiraling out of control.

On the other side are the Maoists who seemingly help people but really just use them for their violent ends. In reality, the areas in which the Operation were carried out were in the western strongholds of the Maoists (i.e., Rolpa, Rukum) and the oppressed nationalities who live there have been among the poorest and most exploited for centuries. This is one of the reasons that this region has been such a strong base of support for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), going back to before the initiation of the people's war.

If brutal repression came down on these areas before the Maoists had an army, before they had weapons, why did masses of people protect the Party during this Operation? The CPN(M) has not received any foreign aid. The only force it has relied on since the beginning is the masses of people. The transformation over nine years has been that from unsophisticated rebels to a force on the verge of winning nationwide power.

There are no "masses" interviewed in the article who support the people’s war. (In these "caught in the middle" articles if you actually support the revolutionary group you're no longer part of the masses you're part of the "rebels.") This isn’t odd since the unfamiliar reader might be taken in by one interviewee who claims that 90 percent of the country hates the Maoists. This is beyond ridiculous. Even people who have no sympathy for the Maoists whatsoever admit that the Maoists have millions and millions of supporters.

The only people who support the people's war interviewed are two full-time Maoists, who we're to assume are Party members, though it’s unclear if they actually are, and Griswold is rather dismissive of what they have to say. For one, she snidely dismisses that the Maoists charge tuition for schools that they’ve set up. When Katmnadu does this its called taxes, when the Maoists do this in areas they control and administer it’s called extortion!

Even a young woman attempting to join the Royal Nepal Army said that "The Maoists have high principles so they attract everyone who is interested in struggling for equality." (p. 65)

WHAT THE HELL IS THE US DOING IN NEPAL ANYWAY?... or last time I checked my "redeemable anywhere in the U.S." coupons weren't any good in Nepal

Griswold's article attempts to make the case that historically the U.S. has played a positive role in Nepal and that the U.S. really just wants to bring freedom and democracy. Griswold inform us that it was because of the pressure of the political parties and the U.S. that King Birendra "relinquished his grip on power."

We find out that in relation to the king's February coup that "Despite the world's disapproval, including the United States, there is little anyone can do." (p. 64)

Let's get real, even Bouckaert says that “It’s very clear that when the U.S. demands something from the government, the government complies.” (p. 67)

She quotes a general as saying “Peace...will be forged only through more military spending, particularly by the United States. (p. 65)

However, the most alarming part of this article is an unchallenged quote from U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty. On this point, it seems Griswold's journalism is one of two things: 1) some of the worst journalism I've ever seen (and by the way that's the best case scenario), or 2) this article is actually trying to create some ideological justification for the possibility of US intervention in Nepal. Peep this bold-faced lie from Moriarty:

"It's not Islamic fundamentalism, obviously, but it is a very fervent brand of Maoism that could cause great trouble in this area. They've said they're going to invade the United States." (p.67, emphasis added)

And what does Eliza do with this lie? Does she point out that the CPN(M) has never, ever said anything even remotely like this? No, she runs with this as somehow some kind of justification, a defensive measure if you will, for the U.S. giving military aid to Nepal. Peep the next paragraph:

"The Maoists have, it is true, raised the volume on their anti-U.S. rhetoric, and before February's palace coup, the United States had responded to that threat with million in military aid to Nepal and an order for 20,000 M-16 assault rifles to be placed in the hands of the Royal Nepalese Army." (p.67, emphasis added).


I BELIEVE THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE…or the U.S. gets all Whitney Houston on ya

Lastly, there’s the slander about the abductions carried out by the Maoists, because as we all know the U.S. is deeply concerned about the children of Nepal. This is one of the more malicious lies. It's said that people are "disappeared" by the state on the one side and "abducted" by the Maoists on the other. To be clear, there's a stark world of difference between the state and the Maoists. "Disappeared" is just a euphamism that ranges from for rape and murder to imprisonment and torture. This has nothing in common with the "abductions" by the Maoists.

I’ll just quote a snippet from an article that ran in the AFP a while back about these "abductions:"

"Nepalese students, recounting their abduction by Maoist rebels, say the militants treated them well and wanted to hear their views--even if they were critical of rebel actions.

"Ramila Acharya, 15, said she was terrified when armed rebels, who have been waging an increasingly deadly war to topple the constitutional monarchy, barged into their school in Chaimale and told them they were taking them away to teach the students 'what a "people's republic" meant.'

"'I felt like crying and was very upset,' she told AFP, providing a rare account of being kidnapped by the Maoists, whose 'people's war' to install a communist republic had left some 9,500 dead since 1996.

"'But the rebels treated us nicely. They gave us shelter and food to eat,' even if they did make 'us chant slogans like "Long live the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist!' she said.


Eliza Griswold’s article is bad. Yep, I think that just about covers it. Though seriously, I would encourage people to write the editors. Short pieces are more likely to be printed.


Harper’s Magazine

666 Broadway

New York, NY 10012


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