Republican Congressman Curt Clawson and Bharatiya Janata Party Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) K Lakshman may be separated by some 10,000 miles but they are joined by their willful ignorance and prejudice. One, namely Clawson, infers from the skin color and appearance of two senior Obama government officials that they must be foreigners while the other, Lakshman, mischievously suggests that India’s best known woman tennis player must have loyalties toward Pakistan because she is married to a Pakistani cricketer.
U.S. Republican Congressman Curt Clawson
At their heart Clawson and Lakshman are both captives of their painfully narrow and prejudiced worldview. When Clawson, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the leap was relatively straightforward from brown skin to foreigner when he presumed that the two Indian looking officials, Nisha Biswal of the State Department and Arun Kumar of the Commerce Department, were not American. Lakshman on the other hand had to cross some hoops before calling the tennis player Sania Mirza “the daughter-in-law of Pakistan” because she is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik. For Clawson, the inference was not overtly egregious when presumed reflexively that Biswal and Kumar must be representing the Indian government at a Congressional hearing. For Lakshman, the inference was consciously egregious. It is not my case that one is better than the other. I am merely pointing out the difference in semantics.
During the hearing, whose content was first reported by the Foreign Policy magazine, Clawson said while addressing somewhat flustered Biswal and Kumar, “I’m familiar with your country; I love your country. Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so.” According to the magazine, the freshman lawmaker asked the two if ‘their’ government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.”
”Just as your capital is welcome here to produce good-paying jobs in the U.S., I’d like our capital to be welcome there. I ask cooperation and commitment and priority from your government in so doing. Can I have that?” he pressed on gamely sanguine in his ignorance that the two officials were very much from the U.S. and represented the Obama administration.
To Biswal’s credit, she kept her calm and chose not to express any outward disgust. She said, ““I think your question is to the Indian government.”
It was not clear if even after being told that Clawson realized his fuckup because he said, “OK, let’s see some progress.” If anyone here who needs progress desperately, it is him.
In Lakshman’s case, the prejudice was pretty unambiguous and classic. Apparently exercised that Mirza has been appointed a brand ambassador of the newly minted Indian state of Telangana, he made a rapid journey from Mirza being a woman (sexism), a Muslim (prejudice) and married to a Pakistani (rabid nationalism) to therefore unreliable in keeping with the thinking of a fair number of Indians. In a tragic demonstration, Mirza had to issue a statement asserting her “Indian-ness” and go on NDTV to express how hurt and saddened she was by Lakshman’s offensive comment.
She told NDTV’s Barkha Dutt that she did not know what prompted Lakshman to say what he said. There is no great mystery here. He represents regimental thinking where he sees connections and conclusions where none exists. As I said, the fact that Mirza is a woman, a Muslim to boot, and married to a Pakistani, and a Muslim to boot, is a bonanza for him. For him, it is like going to a village fair of prejudice where a lot of cheap and mischievous thrill has to be had.
It is instructive that neither Clawson nor Lakshman felt the need to apologize. If they did, I have not seen it.