Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Israel Boycott II

Lisa Taraki was kind enough to continue the dialogue with me after our first exchange. Here is an update:

I will comment on two points that concern facts about the BDS movement rather than assessments of its efficacy or rationale:
1. The Palestinian BDS movement targets complicit institutions and not individuals, whether they are artists or academics. This is clearly spelled out in all the statements issued by PACBI ( or the Palestinian BDS National Committee (
2. BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) covers a range of actions, including cultural and academic boycott. More can be learned by consulting the BDS website.

Hi Lisa,
I've been reading up on PACBI and discovered an astonishing piece of information. Your colleague and co-founder of PACBI, Omar Barghouti, is apparently a student of Tel Aviv University (I don't know if he's been expelled or left in recent days, but he was a student long after PACBI was formed).
Please answer this question: why is it OK for founder-members of your organisation to take advantage of facilities offered by the Israeli state, when you expect Indian artists to boycott similar Israeli institutions? It seems like hypocrisy on a grand scale to me.

Me, again:
Sorry to keep writing, but I just discovered an article on the PACBI site about Tel Aviv University, headlined, Study: Tel Aviv University Part and Parcel of the Israeli Occupation:
Is this is the same Tel Aviv University attended by your colleague and co-founder of PACBI Omar Barghouti?
I've also read a statement about how it's unfair to criticise Barghouti since Palestinians don't have any choice in educational matters. However, from what I read, Barghouti was born in Qatar, and has a degree from Columbia. He certainly has access to a world of learning, yet he chooses to stay enrolled in an institution that his own organisation calls "Part and Parcel of the Israeli Occupation"!
I've read some articles about you, and I greatly respect what you have done in your career and the many initiatives you have led to enable greater educational access for Palestinians. However, PACBI's policies appear to me not just misguided in themselves, but also fatally compromised by the Barghouti situation, unless there is more to it than Wikipedia and other sources put forward.

You probably haven't come across the PACBI response to the campaign against Omar Barghouti. Here it is:

Hi Lisa,
I did read that statement, and this paragraph in it:
"PACBI has never called upon Palestinian citizens of Israel and those who are compelled to carry Israeli identification documents, like Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem, to refrain from studying or teaching at those Israeli institutions. That would have been an absurd position, given the complete lack of alternatives available"
Omar Barghouti, I've read, was born in Qatar and educated at Columbia University, New York. In which case, he certainly did, and does, have many alternatives available.
The PACBI statement also says:
"leaders of the anti-colonial resistance movement in India and Egypt, among many other countries, received their education at British universities at the height of the colonial era."
They did; but they didn't then turn around and ask everybody else to boycott those institutions like Omar Barghouti has done.
I should also point out that the fact that Omar Barghouti was admitted to Tel Aviv University, and continued to be a student even after his anti-Israel activism became well known, is an excellent example of why the parallel with apartheid, which is the basis of PACBI's argument, collapses under close scrutiny. It is inconceivable that a Black African would have been admitted to the University of Cape Town when apartheid laws were in force. A black or coloured ANC activist would have been in jail rather than studying in a prestigious South African institution. The Israeli state allows a remarkable amount of dissent from citizens, and much of that dissent comes from intellectuals employed in state-funded bodies such as universities. That was simply not the case in apartheid South Africa.

I will update this post if Lisa responds.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Israel Boycott

My friend the artist N Pushpamala, has issued a call for artists to boycott a forthcoming show of Indian art, called Deconstructing India, to be mounted at the Tel Aviv Museum next April. Pushpamala's central point is that the exhibition, and the museum that will host it, serves to legitimise the 'racist and apartheid' policies of Israel.
I don't care overmuch if the show happens or not. It sounds like a replica of a dozen other exhibitions of contemporary Indian art with names like Chalo India, Indian Highway, Indian Summer, India-this, and Indian-that, none of which got rave notices or created any genuine excitement among foreign spectators.
As anybody who reads this blog regularly will know, I'm not a big fan of Israel. I am, however, even less a fan of blanket cultural boycotts. When another friend, the artist Tushar Joag, circulated Pushpamala's mail to a wide group, I responded with the letter quoted below (I've removed a few specific examples I gave):

I don't understand this, frankly. If we start boycotting museum shows because of bad things governments are doing, where will it end?

Why should Indian artists exhibit in China, when the regime there has been responsible for horrendous massacres and continues to deny basic freedom of expression to its citizens?

Why should people exhibit in museums and universities in the United States (almost all of which receive state funding), when the country is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 Iraqi civilians in the past decade and many more in the decade before that?

Why should galleries exhibit at the state-backed Sharjah Biennale and Dubai art fair, when the UAE denies the most basic rights to migrant labour, much of which is sourced from the sub-continent (if you want to speak about apartheid, the UAE is a great example of apartheid written into law)?

Why should we collaborate with artists and curators from Iran and Pakistan despite the terrible record of the governments of those countries in protecting minority rights? Denying minorities equality under the law is very akin to apartheid, isn't it?

Why, in the end, should artists and curators exhibit at the Lalit Kala Akademi and the National Gallery of Modern Art when we know the many kinds of repression unleashed by the Indian state, many of which have been explored and interrogated by artists and activists on this email? Does showing at the Lalit Kala legitimise all the dreadful policies of the Indian governments in Kashmir, the North East, Chattisgarh, Gujarat etc.?

Israel has done terribly by the Palestinians, but associating art institutions and centres of learning, even state funded ones, so closely with state policy is a silly mistake in my opinion, and tokenism of the worst kind as well.

I'd hoped a debate would begin about the issue, but received only personal mails from people supporting my position. I presume other mails went out to those proposing the boycott, supporting their position. Today, Pushpamala forwarded a response to my letter from Lisa Taraki of PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel).
Lisa wrote:
This is a very familiar argument, and this is our usual response:
There are indeed plenty of repressive regimes, and some of them are already subject to sanctions. There are also many other regimes that trample on their citizens' rights while enjoying support from world powers such as the USA, the EU, and other centers of power.
However, when there is a people's movement, such as the Palestinian BDS movement, that explicitly calls upon conscientious citizens of the world to boycott their oppressor in order to bear pressure to achieve its rights, it is the obligation of those conscientious people, whether in India or in France, to heed the call. If there were a boycott movement in China, Iran, or Pakistan urging conscientious artists and academics, etc. to boycott the major cultural and academic institutions in those countries, then it would be the duty of conscientious artists and academics to respond to the call.
The vast majority of Palestinian civil society has adopted the Palestinian BDS Call (
Just consider what the reaction of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa would have been if artists, academics, and sportsmen and sportswomen around the world had refused to support the boycott of the South African state because there were other oppressive regimes the world over. Either boycott all such regimes, or no support for your struggle, they would have said! That would have rightly been considered an abrogation of responsibility, a diversionary tactic. Why is Israel being treated differently? Why the special allowances for Israel?
Palestinian civil society is asking artists, academics, and other conscientious people the world over to support its call for BDS. Do we listen to the voice of the oppressed? That is the basic issue.
The cultural and academic boycott, targeting the mainstream institutions of the Israeli state (and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is certainly part of the establishment, as is clear from a review of its website), aims to isolate Israel until Palestinian rights guaranteed by international law are achieved. Pressure on the Israeli state is the only avenue left, in view of the failure of all other measures, from diplomacy to "constructive engagement" to persuasion.

And this is my reply to Lisa:
Hi Lisa,

If this is a familiar argument, I'm surprised you have not come up with better answers. But that might be because there ARE no better answers.

You write:
"...when there is a people's movement, such as the Palestinian BDS movement, that explicitly calls upon conscientious citizens of the world to boycott their oppressor in order to bear pressure to achieve its rights, it is the obligation of those conscientious people, whether in India or in France, to heed the call."

There is absolutely no obligation on conscientious citizens anywhere in the world to heed anybody else's call. There are a thousand people's movements across the globe, and many of them issue such boycott calls. The validity of every call has to be determined by individuals rather than result from the sort of obligatory Groupthink you recommend. Just because I consider your boycott call absurd does not make me any less conscientious a citizen than those who choose to obey it.

You write:
"Just consider what the reaction of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa would have been if artists, academics, and sportsmen and sportswomen around the world had refused to support the boycott of the South African state because there were other oppressive regimes the world over. Either boycott all such regimes, or no support for your struggle, they would have said! That would have rightly been considered an abrogation of responsibility, a diversionary tactic. Why is Israel being treated differently? Why the special allowances for Israel?"

Artists academics and sportsmen joined the boycott of South Africa as part of a worldwide political and economic boycott. The cultural contribution was significant, but nowhere near as significant as political isolation and economic strangulation; without those two components, and the worldwide political consensus that engenders them, cultural boycotts are of little use. You will not be able to give me a single example of a cultural boycott of the kind you propose having produced significant political change anywhere in the world.
Besides, even at the height of the apartheid ban, people all over the world read and admired novels by the likes of Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. Their being South African, and continuing to live in South Africa, did not lead to us boycotting their publications. Your movement, on the other hand, insists on boycotting all individuals with Israeli citizenship. How can you decide, on the basis of a website, what the affiliations of curators in Tel Aviv's Museum of Art are? Do you know any of them? Or have you studied their writing and concluded that they support the excesses of the Israeli State? I'm willing to wager you do not and have not.

You write:
"The cultural and academic boycott, targeting the mainstream institutions of the Israeli state (and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is certainly part of the establishment, as is clear from a review of its website), aims to isolate Israel until Palestinian rights guaranteed by international law are achieved. Pressure on the Israeli state is the only avenue left, in view of the failure of all other measures, from diplomacy to "constructive engagement" to persuasion."

If the Palestinians had adopted a primarily non-violent form of resistance like India did in its struggle against imperialism, or like the American Civil Rights movement did, I have no doubt there would have been a viable Palestinian state in existence by now. Decades of Islamist terrorism failed to shake the Mubarak regime, but a few weeks of widespread non-violent protest brought it down. The Palestinians have kept the option of resorting to violence open even when they have entered negotiations with Israel. The Palestinian public continues to support the targetting of Israeli civilians, and a martyr cult has been fostered in the Occupied Territories. Perhaps Palestinians should look more closely at their own failures down the decades, before speaking of what is "the only avenue left" and of the "failure of all other measures".



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nathalie Djurberg at Mumbai Art Room

Susan Hapgood, an American curator who moved to Bombay a couple of years ago, has opened a small not-for-profit space in Colaba called the Mumbai Art Room. The gallery's first show features a single ten-minute video by the Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg, who specialises in painstakingly crafted claymation.
I Found Myself Alone puts a spindly black ballerina on a table set for afternoon tea. She dances awkwardly between creamy confections and baroque crockery before being doused by wax from a candle. She cleans herself of the goop after a struggle, but soon faces a second attack. Eventually, she seeks revenge on whiteness by using coffee from the pot to stain the linen and porcelain. The battle between black and white gestures to histories of colonialism and immigration, but any moral drawn from the narrative is as discomfiting as the work itself becomes beyond its cutesy opening moments. Djurberg's use of the tactility of plasticine and her partner Hans Berg's eerie musical score make I Found Myself Alone fascinating to watch.

The Mumbai Art Room is situated bravely on the ground floor of a large residential building, and news has got round about the entertainment on offer inside. Students of the Navy Children School next door are regular visitors. In the short time I spent in the gallery, four girls and then five boys walked up to the glass doors, peered inside for a minute, before entering, sitting themselves on the floor, giggling and whispering loudly, and being shushed by the gallery manager. It's good to see this connection with the neighbourhood, which is obviously something Susan Hapgood wants to take further. It does, of course, restrict the kind of art she can show. I can't imagine, for instance, that Nathalie Djurberg's more graphic stuff would be welcomed in this location.
Here's a portion of a video by Djurberg screened at the 2009 Venice Biennale, where she won the Promising Young Artist award. It's reminiscent of Salvador Dali's canvases Premonitions of Civil War and Autumnal Cannibalism, which must have been as disturbing in their time as Djurberg's work is in ours.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Aravind Adiga's Last Man in Tower

My review of Aravind Adiga's novel Last Man in Tower has been published by CNN Go. Read it here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the bomb blasts

I watched a bit of the Swedish adaptation of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last night. It was better than watching ranting anchors and ranting politicians and ranting analysts, but even so I couldn't watch more than 15 minutes. Adaptations usually employ actors who look better than their literary counterparts. It's a sensible policy, because it's easier to read about ugly people than to watch ugly people on screen for extended periods. For some reason, the Swedes decided that they would make all the Dragon Tattoo characters plainer than they are in the book. There's Larsson's hero Mikael Blomkvist, for example, a middle-aged journalist who has a mysterious power over women. For those who have not read Stieg Larsson's trilogy, it's worth knowing that the male characters are, almost all of them, rapists and murderers; Blomkvist is the very opposite. He's good with women, and quite indiscriminate in his tastes. He sleeps with every woman he meets and, unlike James Bond, doesn't even have to seduce them. Without exception, they make the first move. Reading the books, you wonder why so many women would fall for him; and watching the actor playing him makes suspension of disbelief even tougher. Maybe the actor is famous in Sweden, in which case his fame might have compensated for his lack of charm. But the director has decided to film everybody in the most unflattering light possible, so they all look corpse-grey and unsexy in the extreme.
For the English adaptation, they've apparently got James Bond playing Mikael Blomkvist. Daniel Craig will probably be pleased to ditch the seduction routines.
I guess I should say something about the explosions. One was about a kilometer from my home as the crow flies, and another about a kilometer from where I was last evening. I was leaving a Kemp's Corner bookshop when I got a message about the first blast; within a minute all phone lines were jammed. I decided to eat a sandwich in the bookshop's cafe, giving any other bombs that might have been planted time to explode. Afterward I got a cab home. The streets were calm and not very crowded.
Bombs are something we have to live with now. Obviously, like other nasty things we have to live with, such as murder and robbery, it's important to minimise the number of incidents. We haven't had any attacks for two years and a half, which I think is good going. I'll happily take one attack every two years that kills about twenty of us, and accept the risk of being one of those twenty next time round.
For those who don't know Bombay well, more than ten people die on the city's rail tracks every day. Over twenty thousand have died in the past five years hit by trains while trying to cross the tracks. Many of those could've been saved if we had a good rescue service organised. But we don't. We depend on guys living by the tracks who haul bloodied and broken bodies to hospitals, and then wait for tips from relatives of the wounded or dead.
Deaths on rail tracks are very different from deaths from terrorism, of course. The individuals took a risk by crossing the tracks, and broke the law as well. I don't want to suggest an equivalence between the two modes of dying. I'm just pointing to how atrocious our systems and infrastructure are. Considering that, and considering it isn't all that difficult to make a bomb, I'm surprised we have not had more attacks since November 2008. Also that other cities have not had more attacks. We need only look at Pakistan's current condition to understand how bad things could get.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mani Kaul 1944 - 2011

Mani Kaul was the closest thing India has had to an avant-garde film-maker. Let me explain what I mean by that term. The great age of the avant-garde in visual art occurred in Europe between 1900 AD and the outbreak of the First World War. A bewildering number of experimental movements flourished at that time: Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Cubo-Futurism, Vorticism, Constructivism, Suprematism and so on. Around 1905, Henri Matisse and his colleagues began painting in bright hues that bore little resemblance to the real colours of their subjects. A French critic dismissed them as Fauves, or wild beasts. Two years later, the 26 year old Pablo Picasso painted his seminal canvas, Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. Henri Matisse ridiculed the painting, calling it a hoax; and his fellow-Fauve André Derain said that one day Picasso would hang himself behind that canvas. Their response to Picasso mirrored the outrage of the traditionalist French critic when faced with their own work. That's a feature of the best avant-garde art: it feels very unlike what has hitherto been defined as art, and can't adequately be judged by established standards associated with a given art form.

Mani Kaul confronted a similar situation with his first film Uski Roti, made when he was 26. The film is a straight-out masterpiece. I have no hesitation in placing it among the great debuts of all time alongside the likes of Citizen Kane and Pather Panchali. It also holds a secure place in my list of the ten greatest Indian films ever made. On a sadder note, I categorise it as the last truly great film produced in India. Movies have come close since then: some of Adoor Gopalkrishnan's films, and Aravindan's, and the early Ketan Mehta's; and also Mani Kaul's Duvidha, made two years after Uski Roti, and his last film Naukar Ki Kameez from 1999. But Uski Roti has a clarity and command of medium that sets it apart.
The film was so different from the cinema being produced at the time that even directors outside the sphere of commercial cinema couldn't grasp its achievement. Satyajit Ray detected a "pernicious anaemia" in Kaul's work, a "wayward, fragile aestheticism" that had "led him to the sick bed". Ray was in the position of Matisse and Derain faced with Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. His own cinema had been criticised for its supposed incomprehensibility and tediousness, but here was a director whose work Ray himself found incomprehensible and tedious. The formal experiments in Kaul's work left even the leading lights of parallel cinema befuddled and angry.
It is amusing, today, to witness Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani being asked to eulogise Mani Kaul. The media groups all these directors in the category of "1970s and 80s art film makers". The fact is, though, that they belonged to two separate camps -- social realists and aesthetes if you will -- with no love lost between them. Mani Kaul and his colleague Kumar Shahani treated Benegal and Nihalani's work with something close to contempt; and, while I'm not aware of what Shyam Benegal thought of the Kaul / Shahani style, I know Govind Nihalani despised it.
Uski Roti doesn't have much of a plot to occupy its 110 minutes. A woman travels from her home regularly to give her trucker husband his lunch. One day she is delayed and he gets upset. Afterwards, they reconcile. The film's affect is determined by its pace and framing, which is as controlled and unwavering as that of the first two Godfather films. I like to say that, had The Godfather Part II run for thirty minutes less than it did, it would have seemed too long. Luckily it runs for over three hours, which is just right. When I first saw Uski Roti, I was completely drawn in; I found its rhythm mesmeric. However, for those who can't feel the power and inexorableness of the near-stasis, a screening of Uski Roti probably feels like watching paint dry.
To go back to what Satyajit Ray said about Mani Kaul and Kumar Shahani, I was a bit unfair to the Bengali master. He mentions Uski Roti only in passing, and concentrates his ire on Duvidha, Kaul's third film. Ray observes that Kaul and Shahani have reduced acting to certain minimalistic gestures, eschewing dramatic cliches, but the gestures they favour, such as the slow turn of head from one profile to the other, become cliches themselves, as do the lavish colours they utilise. This is absolutely on the spot, and became a significant drawback in Mani Kaul's films of the 1980s and 1990s. In cinema, particularly experimental cinema, there's no such thing as a good habit. All habits are bad habits. Kaul's over-reliance on particular gestures and modes of expression was exacerbated by an incursion of symbols in his work. An element of self-parody crept into films like Mati Manas, Siddheshwari, Nazar and Idiot. There's plenty to admire in each of them, but they are a long way from Uski Roti and Duvidha. The beauty in their frames frequently comes across as a form of prettiness rather than an exploration of new visual possibilities.
The low point in Kaul's career was The Cloud Door, part of a series titled Erotic Tales. An actress named Anu Agarwal, popular at the time, played the central character. Since her role involved nudity, the film became something of a media sensation. The Cloud Door is a disaster from beginning to end; a risible interpretation of an old myth about a parrot who tells bawdy tales; a princess who saves it from the king's wrath; and a lover led by the parrot to the princess's bedroom.
Kaul found top form once more with his final film, Naukar Ki Kameez. Hardly screened at all in India, the film marked a return to a fluid, less stilted style. Its easy humour and discernible everyday narrative were refreshing after all those films involving myth piled on legend piled on symbol; and Mani Kaul's old control over pace and framing was evident from beginning to end. In person Mani Kaul was a great raconteur, full of energy and humour. Somehow that side of his personality was absent in the films he made in the 1980s and early '90s.
He directed no films in the last decade of his life, but Naukar Ki Kameez proved a wonderful final act.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the TISS 'rape'

US prosecutors are about to drop charges against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the accuser's story began falling apart. Seeing no way to a successful trial, New York's District Attorney is cutting his losses.
While it is legitimate to ask if DSK should have been arrested in such haste in the first place, at least he was given bail fairly soon by a judge; and freed about six weeks after the incident. The situation's very different in India.
The same day as the DSK prosecution fell apart, Bombay's High Court rejected the state's plea to appeal a lower court judgement in the TISS rape case. Here's the gist of that case: an American student doing a course at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was persuaded to get drunk in a pub and then join six young men in a flat in Andheri. According to her, she felt woozy after entering the flat, fell asleep and woke to find her clothes undone and two of the guys sleeping next to her. Before dropping her to her hostel, the two bought a morning-after pill and asked her to consume it. She concluded her drink had been spiked, and the six had gang raped her while she slept. This even though:
1) She didn't actually recall any intercourse.
2) Four of the boys hadn't so much as touched her before she fell into that drugged sleep.
3) One of them left the house after letting his five friends in.

Forensic evidence showed no sign of any sexual intercourse having taken place. There was no trace of any date-rape drug in the accuser's urine sample, just some cannabis. It all came down to what the girl inferred had happened while she was supposedly asleep.

On the basis of that inference, six boys were charged under India's super-strict rape law and put away for months without bail in a jail where living conditions are sub-human.

The incident occurred in April 2009. The accused were acquitted in October 2010, which is very quick by Indian standards. What is unusual about last week's High Court judgement is that the judges didn't even admit the state's appeal against the order. The evidence had to have been dreadfully weak for a High Court to decline to hear an appeal.

Here's the clincher from the lower court's verdict: The woman said she was drugged and asleep from about 2 am to 10 am. Yet, her phone records showed she had made twelve calls to two friends in that period, and exchanged messages with them all the while. The prosecution apparently had no response to this glaring inconsistency.
"The victim also deposed that she was unconscious between 2 am and 10 am of April 12, 2009, but the prosecution has offered no concrete explanation for the 12 calls that were made from her mobile phone to that of her two friends - Ahmed Mitha and Rishabh Choksi - during those hours.
Her phone records show that the calls lasted for around two minutes and also several messages were exchanged. The defence harped on this point to establish that she was not unconscious during this period - when she was allegedly raped - and raised doubts over her testimony's veracity."

So here's the deal. Phone records are easy to get; the police will have had them at most within a week of the girl's complaint. If these records demolished the complainant's basic story, why did the police continue with the prosecution? It's as if the Indian police no longer have the right to conclude that any accused are innocent. On the other hand, they appear to suffer no adverse consequences if cases are dismissed in court. The New York DA's career would have gone down the drain if he launched a high-profile trial with a zero-credibility witness. Indian prosecutors obviously face no threat to their careers in proceeding with unwinnable trials.

Shouldn't it be obligatory for police to reveal whether the girl spoke with friends repeatedly on that night or not? This is a question of fact, not opinion, and the police have access to the answer. We appear to have built a system where cops leak whatever information and speculation suits their case, but have no obligation to make the facts of a case public when the accused are innocent.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Federer and Ali

Roger Federer has often won matches that seemed lost. Two days ago, he lost a match that seemed won. He later came across as oddly complacent about the game, saying his opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had played too well. It's a sign he's losing the edge. Which is OK, you're entitled to lose your edge after winning 16 grand slams and holding the number one spot for some 300 weeks.
What dismayed me was Federer's lack of tactical insight. It's clear to even a cursory observer that Tsonga has an iffy backhand. For some reason, Roger refused to focus on attacking his opponent's weakness. It's like he believes his opponent's playing style is irrelevant, that he can win on the basis of his own talent. Rafael Nadal is different, cannier in approach. He attacks Federer's backhand relentlessly on clay with deep, viciously kicking topspin. He can probably defeat Federer on clay even without adopting this strategy, but he keeps to what is tried and tested.
Yesterday, with the Haye-Klitschko fight approaching, I watched a few older bouts on YouTube. I started with Klitscko-Lennox Lewis, but it was so boring I needed the energy boost of a few Golden Age matches. I viewed Foreman's demolition of Frazier and Norton; and then the Rumble in the Jungle for about the tenth time. Ali was commentating on the Frazier -Foreman fight, and Frazier on the Ali- Foreman fight. Their approach was strikingly different. Ali kept stressing Frazier should not go ahead like a bull against Foreman's fearsome punches. "He should back up", he said repeatedly. Frazier didn't back up, and got clobbered. Frazier, on the other hand, had no tactical advice for Ali, which was fine because Ali didn't need any. He played his opponent like a master, taking every advantage of Foreman's amateurish technique to launch stinging attacks, while evading his clubbing blows by leaning back against the ring's loose ropes.
Ali had a famously big mouth, but he knew his limitations pretty well (at least until he came back from retirement twice too often). He never ever tried to go toe-to-toe with a superior puncher. In that sense, he was a more humble sportsman than Roger Federer.