VIEW: Obama’s Gandhi syndrome —Yasser Latif Hamdani - Monday, October 18, 2010

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The west has an ancient tradition of paying lip service to eastern mystics to fill some sort of deep spiritual void. Jesus Christ was the first in the line of eastern mystics. It was the other JC — Julius Caesar — who truly is the harbinger of western civilisation and power

President Barack Hussain Obama, the son of a Kenyan international student in the US, is at the epitome of power and prestige in the world. His life reads like the classical American dream. Product of a mixed marriage and of inclusive religious traditions, Harvard educated Obama owns in Chicago a house worth $ 1.9 million, which has a 1,000 bottle wine cellar. Having risen to the corridors of power and taken the seat as the chief executive of the strongest nation on earth, he is also the commander-in-chief of the strongest and most technologically advanced armed forces in the world, which are, on his orders, stepping up their attacks against Taliban militants in Afghanistan and its border regions with Pakistan.

It never ceases to amaze — nay amuse — me however that Obama and many like him in the west — including arch capitalist and Silicon Valley pirate Steve Jobs — cite as an example and ideal the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi. Even if we ignore Gandhi’s less than charitable remarks about the African race to which Obama partially belongs, perhaps US liberals should ask themselves on what side of the debate Gandhi would be on issues such as women’s rights, abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage given his definite religion-inspired socially conservative agenda. They would be less than pleased! Because of the sanitised and selective Gandhi that the world came to see through the coloured lens deployed by Richard Attenborough in that great 1982 propaganda film, one can only conclude that President Obama is either being ironic or downright sinister when he claims inspiration from Gandhi.

The contrast between Gandhi and Obama cannot be greater. Gandhi did not put any faith in constitutional offices of power, choosing instead to play the supreme agitator in the streets through civil disobedience. Obama, who taught constitutional law at Harvard not long ago, has risen to power by working the system as a legislator and a constitutional politician. Gandhi was born into riches that he abandoned to live the life of a simple Hindu peasant. Obama was born into a middle class family but through hard work is now fabulously rich. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two men is their approach to war. Consider for example Gandhi’s advice to the British in World War II. He advised them in earnest to allow Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to occupy their island and to not resist them. This Gandhi described as the ‘non-violent way’ of waging war. At a time when the Jews of Germany were being hauled away to concentration camps and humanity was witnessing one of its worst exterminations, Gandhi pleaded with the allies to look at “brother Hitler’s” good side.

In comparison Obama is a war leader. He has identified the enemy and its ideology as evil and is going after it with a vengeance. Surely it is not Obama’s position that the ideology of al Qaeda is worse than the Nazi ideology, which is responsible for the holocaust. If Obama is truly inspired by Gandhi, why does he not wage a non-violent war against the Taliban and at the very least stop the drone attacks? This author is not taking a position on the efficacy and viability of drone attacks but questioning merely the glaring inconsistency in self-professed Gandhians of the west. Or is Gandhi only useful when advising Palestinian resistance? Is non-violence an ideology of convenience for those who profess it? That perhaps would make it consistent with Gandhi’s own reality but then Gandhi is merely a symbol.

The west has an ancient tradition of paying lip service to eastern mystics to fill some sort of deep spiritual void. Jesus Christ was the first in the line of eastern mystics. It was the other JC — Julius Caesar — who truly is the harbinger of western civilisation and power. There is no aspect of western life in which the Greco-Roman influence is absent. Even the Pope, that supreme leader of Catholic Christianity, looks and acts more like a Roman Emperor than like Jesus. Buddha, Jalaluddin Rumi and a long line of yogis and eastern holy men are similarly used for the latest trends and fads. Gandhi is merely a lightweight in comparison.

Here one must also point out however that such hypocrisy is not unique to the west. One of my previous employers had a tradition of sending ‘our people’ e-mails every morning containing profiles of employees. It was actually a very big deal and every employee sent his or her best picture that in their estimate resembled Shahrukh Khan or Priyanka Chopra or whoever it was that they were trying to become. In their personal aspirations, they listed money and world travel and other temporal worldly things. The profile also had a section called ‘ideal personality’. Without exception every one of the employees, the Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra look-alikes, wrote down the ‘Holy Prophet (PBUH)’.

Gandhism is alive and well in Pakistan also.

The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at and can be reached at

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