Milan Rai is the author of “War Plan Iraq,” and a longtime British anti-war and anti-nuclear activist of Nepali origins. Voices in the Wilderness, an UK-based organization with which he is affiliated, has strongly opposed the American occupation of Iraq. He talked with Sushma Joshi of the Nation Weekly about his work on Iraq, and his impressions of the similarity of the situation in Nepal.
What changes have you seen since the last time you came to Nepal?
I was last here four years ago. There’s a lot more militarization and urbanization. The atmosphere is very brittle.
What do you think of the recent bombing in Thamel?
It’s a military action coming into the tourist zone. It’s a taboo being broken. My impression is that people in the Kathmandu Valley, to a certain extent, are living in a bubble, and the tourists are living inside another bubble inside the bubble. I have a sense of impending loss. I don’t know how much longer this bubble can continue.
You’ve advocated non-violent methods of resistance for Iraq and UK. What would you suggest for the current political situation in Nepal?
My sense of it is that there are much more opportunities to be explored, like non-violent interventions for justice and freedom.
You’ve written a book with Noam Chomsky, one of the most well-known leftist intellectuals of the West. Do you have a personal relationship with him?
I asked him if I could use an essay by him, and he agreed. I wouldn’t say it’s a very personal relationship. I have met him four or five times. I interviewed him for my first book “Chomsky’s Politics.”
What were your impressions of him?
Chomsky is one of the great minds of our generation. I was not just influenced, but revolutionized by his ideas on a whole range of issues. On a personal level, he’s an incredibly unassuming and approachable man. We have a culture of celebrity. We treat some people as superhuman and some as less than human. He doesn’t have that to him.
Which books influenced you on your intellectual pathway?
I read the autobiography of Malcolm X, which helped me to find my own path. A book about the Chinese Revolution called “Red Star Over China” was also very influential to my development. This was before the revolution took off. Obviously the Chinese revolution has problems, but one can learn a lot from it.
You’ve been appropriated by the Nepalis as one their own, even though you have concentrated your activism and spent most of your life in the UK.
I have always felt a sense of inferiority as an Asian. The achievements of other Asians helped me to overcome those feelings. It is important to identify with the people you respect.
Do you feel that the sympathy for Iraq and the Iraqi people has gone up in the West since the war began?
There’s been a steady growth of sympathy with people of Iraq since 1998 to the time the war started.
Has the Western notion of Iraqis as “terrorists” lessened since the war began?
Since the war, there’s been another current – anger and bewilderment from people who don’t understand why Iraqis are fighting the coalition forces. People are feeling a bit stuck about how to respond. There are pro and anti-war people on both the Left and the Right. There is a very confused picture in the West regarding Iraq. If the war continues, the potential costs to the Iraqi people and the wider world could be quite high. Now the US is putting a “sovereign” Iraqi government at the end of June. It’s a new mode of controlling the country.
What similarities do you see between Iraq and Nepal’s present situation?
There are lots of parallels. In my book, I write about how the Iraqi armed resistance has been fueled very largely by feelings of revenge and honors of unpunished killings by occupation forces. I don’t claim to know a lot about the situation in Nepal—I don’t follow events here. But I feel there are a lot of similarities here. In both Iraq and Nepal, you cannot take the US government’s commitments to freedom and democracy at all seriously.