Farrukh Dhondy | Right versus Left: Opponents aren’t enemies & can often stay friends

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

The powerless, or the impotent, who hold opposed political views can sometimes remain friends.

Palestinians evacuate a wounded woman following Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. AP/PTI

“O Bachchoo, are we not but a cache of the past,

A store of sensation and thought?

Or are we as some say, a soul that will last?

Lingering for the length, caught

In the trap of a body with a limited span

And does thinking make you be?

Did time know its end when it began?

----Is all this vain philosophy?

From Mermaid ki Marammath, by Bachchoo

It’s only when the opponents have the power or the mission to do something about their opposing political views that they become enemies. The powerless, or the impotent, who hold opposed political views can sometimes remain friends. And this observation has been strengthened through the present Hamas-Israel war.

If I had been Ho Chi Minh, with a taste for Parisienne cuisine, even if it was shared, I wouldn’t befriend Henry Kissinger. The same goes I suppose for less violent antagonisms: Hedgie Sunoch and Keir Starmer walk together to the Cenotaph and the TV shows them sometimes chatting -- that’s not friendship, just decency.

I hereby admit that some people who absolutely support the genocide perpetrated by the present Israeli government against the innocent Palestinians -- still remain in polite contact with me and I with them, though they know that I am diametrically opposed to their view.

The same obtains with a lifelong friend or two who profess to support Vladimir Putin’s action in Ukraine. I don’t. Which doesn’t mean in any sense that I support or ever supported the United States in the past. However impotently, I protested against American adventurism in Vietnam, Iraq… you name it! But then, having opinions is not the same thing as having armies and aircraft-carrier fleets to deploy or having a finger on some nuclear button. What I think, or what my Putin-supporting friends think, changes nothing. We remain friends.

It has been so in very many relationships in my life. My dear friend the late Vidia Naipaul was “Conservative” in every political sense. He even professed to admire Margaret Thatcher whom I, if I had been a thirteenth century cleric, would have consigned to be burnt at the stake.

You’ve gathered by now that even in a past life I was never a thirteenth century cleric; and even if I was, Margaret would not have been there perpetrating her lower-middle-class British revolution and would have escaped the fate of Joan of Arc.

And this perhaps paradoxical observation made me think of my late friend Dhiren Bhagat, who died in a car crash in 1988 in Delhi at the age of 31. We were friends, even though his very spirited opinions were diametrically opposed to mine. He once, spending his time and journalistic talent between India and Britain and their publications, asked me what the British Institute of Race Relations was. I told him it was run by a Sri Lankan gentleman called Sivanandan, whose main contribution to the debate about racism was: “We are here, because you were there!”

I said I thought it an ineffectual, if academic, outfit which commented on but had no means or strategy to address the racial injustice of the time. Dhiren was delighted. He did some research into the funding of the IRR and subsequently interviewed Sivanandan. He told him he was reporting for an Indian newspaper whose editor had sent him to Sivanandan, saying that he was the foremost thinker on race in Britain. At which point, Dhiren mischievously told me, Sivanandan slapped his own thigh saying: “That man knows his onions”.

Dhiren interviewed the poor man and published the most awful derogatory report of the encounter in a British right-wing publication. I think it was The Spectator -- a weekly for which he wrote but which I didn’t then read.

When Dhiren died in 1988, The Spectator held a memorial service for him. I heard about it and attended. It was presided over by the then editor Charles Moore, who stared and frowned at my presence, perhaps wondering, as he delivered his peroration, who the hell I was and why I was there. After the ceremony the attendants were invited to a drink. It was made clear to me that I wasn’t.

I have since, many years later, subscribed to The Spectator and receive it every week, just to see what the right-wing head-bangers and clowns are saying about the world they insist they have lost to the malignant forces of humane opinion and behaviour. I don’t exaggerate.

One of their columnists, Douglas Murray, a firm advocate of the Israeli genocide in Gaza, wrote last week saying that the Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust reluctantly -- they didn’t want to shoot Jews in the back of their heads in their millions and throw them in pits. He doesn’t seem to know about gas chambers. Gentle reader, I was crying until I began to laugh.

All their writers constantly attack what they in every issue in many articles label “the Left”. A shibbolethic target. One of their regular columnists, an American immigrant lady called Lionel Shriver, wrote a piece saying that “Asians” are not a uniform group in Britain. I wrote a letter to the weekly saying that I agreed as Hedgie and Cruella have nothing in common with the Bangladeshi bus driver in Brimingham. And so, my letter said, there was no monolithic phalanx called “the Left”. It was just intellectually lazy targeting.

Was it published? Has Pope Francis converted to Islam?