Insightful newsletter of Drishtikone - Issue #49: Soft Power and its ramifications
Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA had once said “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.”
Bodhidharma was the third son of a Tamil king of the Pallava Dynasty, who took the understanding of Dhyan or meditative living, along with the teachings of Buddha to China. It became the Chan way in China, in Vietnam as Thiền, in Korea as Seon, and, in the 13th century, in Japan as Zen.
That was the most spectacular way that soft power could manifest. And this was a case where it was not used as an instrument of statecraft. It was a natural happening.
The coronation of the Thai king even to this day includes a ceremonial bath. The water used in this ceremony is collected from the five principal rivers of the kingdom: the Chao Phraya, the Pa Sak, the Mae Klong (or Rachaburi), the Phetchaburi, and the Bang Pakong. This mirrors the five ancient Indian rivers, the Ganges, the Mahi, the Yamuna, the Sarayu, and the Achiravati.
No one forces them to do that custom, yet the new king lights candles and prays at the altar with Hindu deities before the bath. That is soft power at work. Unintended proliferation of soft power.
Soft power, however, can be used in many ways. Some times in very devious ones as well.
Many world powers have used it before and are using it even today. Today we will start to look into the topic of Soft power carefully. We will later also look into how civilizational soft power can be better exercised for everyone’s well-being.
As the geopolitical uncertainty increases and international order is eroded, soft power as a foreign policy tool will be even more central to every nation’s survival and thriving ability.
We are in an era that is multi-polar and inter-dependent. The old rules and norms are no longer effective or even valid now. The power is shifting from West to East and from Governments to non-State actors.
In fact, one can say that in the post-COVID world, new power structures will be brought to bear and they will test the flexibility and agility of most governance systems around the world.
How ready a nation is to exert power, while not overtly pushing it, will be the key.
In short, clear and deeply penetrative, yet subtle and embracing soft power will become the key.
What is Soft Power? Why is it important? Does it have tangible benefits? How have nations used it? It is important to know all this. Specially in the new age that we are in. Let us look at all this in complete detail.
Soft power is an important ingredient for the geopolitical strategy of any country. How do countries do it and why is soft power so critical?
As the article discusses in detail, CIA used performers very effectively in the Cold War dynamics to prevail over the Soviet Union.
One of the persons who was used by the CIA in their soft power outreach in Africa was Nina Simone. A powerful voice and an eccentric yet gifted artist.
Nina Simone was a preeminent American singer and pianist in the 1960s. She wrote and performed on a song called “Mississippi Goddam” in 1964 in the aftermath of murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi; and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, where four black children were killed.
Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, she had to change her name to Nina Simone, because she was playing “the devil’s music” - euphemism, in those days, for rock and cocktail piano she was playing.
It is interesting how the bigotry of Christian imperialist ideology was so deeply ingrained in the Blacks in America, that Simone had to disguise herself for playing something well.. “non-Christian”.
This, when just a few centuries back, the white slave owners had made a strong effort to eradicate the African cultural practices and - “heathen” - beliefs from the lives of their Black slaves. What was an instrument of slavery and subjugation - religion - became a symbol of pride for the generations of those slaves. While physical subjugation was the “hard power”, Christianity was the “soft power” of slavery. While the former may have been shed, the latter remained as the chains that still shackle the sub-conscious of the community.
Preserving African religions in North America proved to be very difficult. The harsh circumstances under which most slaves lived—high death rates, the separation of families and tribal groups, and the concerted effort of white owners to eradicate “heathen” (or non-Christian) customs—rendered the preservation of religious traditions difficult and often unsuccessful. Isolated songs, rhythms, movements, and beliefs in the curative powers of roots and the efficacy of a world of spirits and ancestors did survive well into the nineteenth century. But these increasingly were combined in creative ways with the various forms of Christianity to which Europeans and Americans introduced African slaves. (Source: National Humanities Center)
If one looks carefully, Christianity was always used as a cultural weapon. The only true Christian has always been the White Christian.
The rest have simply been dragging it as the proverbial cross of slavery for centuries. What was used in Africa, Asia, Americas as a tool to colonize, subjugate and enslave in time become a proud symbol of the remnant cultures of slaves who were finally freed. Physically they were freed, but not mentally or civilizationally.
It was with this understanding, that we looked at the fundamental situation of the Blacks and their way to creating a powerful place on the planet.
In Anthony Bourdain’s Lagos related program, there was a discussion with a local TV anchor – someone who also anchors the Presidential debates there.
missiles shot at Saudi cities?
A lot of news in the Middle East does not get highlighted in the rest of the world. But what is happening will have long term consequences. For example, yesterday Saudi cities were attacked by missiles from Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia came under a missile and drone attack from Iran-backed Yemen rebels that targeted the capital and other cities, as international efforts to end their five-year war have floundered. Saudi air defenses intercepted at least four ballistic missiles launched by Houthi rebels at Riyadh, Najran and Jazan, and also destroyed eight explosives-laden drones, state-run Saudi Press Agency reported early on Tuesday. (Source)
The Mid-East split is wider than we can appreciate. Now we are seeing major Saudi cities being directly targeted by missiles.
Skin tone removal: Indian matrimonial website, Shaadi.com, has removed a skin tone filter following pressure from users. Hetal Lakhani from Dallas, USA, started an online petition against the option, which led to the company removing it. She started it after speaking to another user, who questioned the filter in light of anti-racism protests. (Source)
EU to ban Americans: European Union countries rushing to revive their economies and reopen their borders after months of coronavirus restrictions are prepared to block Americans from entering because the United States has failed to control the scourge, according to draft lists of acceptable travelers seen by The New York Times. That prospect, which would lump American visitors in with Russians and Brazilians as unwelcome, is a stinging blow to American prestige in the world (Source)
Djokovic COVID Positive: The world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic, said on Tuesday that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus after participating in an exhibition series he organized in Serbia and Croatia (Source)
Mushroom Cloud over Chernobyl: Kiev was covered by an unusual cloud in the form of a nuclear mushroom, just 60 miles from Chernobyl, which was the site of the worlds worst nuclear disaster in 1986. The officials, however, told residents not to panic. Oh sure, Putin! (Source)
hard power, soft power and smart power
This is a very interesting TED talk by Joseph Nye, an American political scientist. He discusses the shifts happening in the global power structures. More like diffusion of power really. Master class!
Joseph Nye - Global power shifts: hard power, soft power and smart power
lede and the nutgraf - making sense of daily clutter
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