Kings in ancient India vied with one another to patronise the most intelligent and learned person in their court. And they had a system to determine who was worthy of ascending that exalted position: the victor had to defeat everyone else in a debate, the subject of which could be anything under the sun or beyond. To ensure that the debate was held as per the highest standards, the participants had to follow a well-codified grammar of communication so that there was no gap in understanding each other’s argument. Every sentence used in the argument had to meet certain conditions and be free from certain faults so that the person sitting on the other side understood exactly what was meant by the person speaking.
To make that possible, every sentence had to satisfy 18 conditions, which would make it completely intelligible to the listener. These conditions comprised a set of merits and faults: every argument must have the minimum number of merits, such as comprehension, order, substantiation, conclusion etc while it should be free from a number of faults, for which an elaborate system of elimination was prescribed. So every acceptable argument must be free from ambiguity, pleonasm and tautology; free from bombast, inconsistency, implication and imperfection as also free from difficulty in comprehension. The acceptability of the argument was decided by a process of elimination of faults. If the argument suffered from even one fault, it was not acceptable.
The rules were so strict that in the modern context if among the listeners there happened to be a person named McDonald and the speaker was referring to McDonald as standing for a burger, it would fail the grammar of communication and therefore could not be accepted in the debate; so much so that even if the listener perfectly understood the point that was being made, he could cite a bias to be confused as a reason to reject the argument. There was absolutely no scope for ambiguity.
Yet in day to day life, people communicate in simple ways and do understand each other. So, when young Emiratis are arguing in favour of equal visa approval rules between the UAE and UK, they couldn’t get more genuine. They find it incomprehensible that while British nationals visiting UAE could get visas on arrival, UAE nationals seeking to visit UK have to apply in advance and wait for a long time to know the outcome, which on many occasions could mean rejection. Some of the British expatriates living in the UAE also feel that the UK approach is hypocritical.
The British consular officials have denied the existence of any such bias against Emiratis desirous of visiting UK or seeking admission in UK universities and colleges. They have acknowledged that there have been some changes in the procedure required for applying visas for UK, but say British universities are continuing to target and attract students from the UAE.
The context for the posturing by prospective Emirati students was provided by the two-day visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron to the UAE, during which the Premier spoke about the partnership between the two countries built on respect for each other’s sovereignty.
You can’t find fault with the new generation of Emiratis for the manner in which they are reacting. Their previous generations might perhaps not mind it, for, they could see sense in some of the unstated parts of the policy, but the current generation certainly does not carry any hangovers from the past and, therefore, has a legitimate reason to feel upset.
Similarly, when the UK authorities insist that the change is only procedural and not substantive in terms of the overall approach, it does not fully reflect the situation on the ground, particularly the difficulties faced by UAE nationals in securing UK visas.
And this takes us back to the grammar of communication. To use a computer and software terminology, uninstalling of a software programme removes the executable files and their obvious parts from the system, but dependencies leave their tracks behind, often interfering with system integrity and fragmenting memory and the registry. It’s amazing how faithfully the computer mimics the human experience.
— The writer is a UAE-based journalist