August 9, 2007

In the Land of Gandhi ...

After writing on the dystopia that Prakash Karat and his comrades would like to engineer in India, the attack on Taslima Nasreen during a book release in Hyderabad, India, is a timely warning on what is at risk. IANS reports from Hyderabad:

Protesting her alleged anti-Islam [sic] writings, legislators Ahmed Pasha Khadri, Afsar Khan and Moazzam Khan moved menacingly towards the author. Moazzam Khan even lifted a chair to attack her. 'How dare you write against the Prophet,' said Afsar Khan.

... The MIM workers, shouting 'Taslima down down' and 'Taslima go back', ransacked the meeting hall and damaged furniture. 'We will kill her,' shouted one of the protestors. 'How could she step into Hyderabad,' asked another.

... She later flew back to Kolkata, where she is living in exile following a 'fatwa' issued against her by Islamic groups in Bangladesh for her book 'Lajja'.

Well, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know my views on the "root of evil" well enough. If you are not, they are not much different from Taslima's on religion, evocatively captured in her poem "Mosque, Temple":

Let the pavilions of religion be ground to bits,

let the bricks of temples, mosques, guruduaras, churches be burned in blind fire,

and upon those heaps of destruction

let lovely flower gardens grow, spreading their fragrance.

let children's schools and study halls grow.

For the welfare of humanity, now let prayer halls

be turned into hospitals, orphanages, universities,

Now let prayer halls become academies of art, fine art centers, scientific research institutes.

Now let prayer halls be turned to golden rice fields in the radiant dawn,

Open fields, rivers, restless seas.

From now on, let religion's other name be humanity.

For daring to write this and more, Dr. Nasreen has a fatwa on her head.

The attack on Taslima Nasreen is just a charcoal sketch by the forces of darkness that are mushrooming in India. When completed, the landscape will be nothing like what the apostle of non-violence thought he had fathered.

Update:

The Indian Express reports:

MIM president Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi defended his party MLAs. “When the Bangladesh government has shunted Taslima out of the country, why is the Indian government protecting her?” he asked.

If Mr. Owaisi and his party members don't understand the difference between India and Bangladesh, then they don't deserve to be citizens of India, let alone be its lawmakers!

15 comments :
  1. Do these people even know to read that they can see for themselves the beauty and sense behind those lines? All they have learnt from childhood is what they heard their mullahs say when they meet for prayer and what the mullahs say is powered by money pumped from Saudi Arabia.

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  2. Religion is necessary for common people or the non thinking type majority, most people need to have faith in something.

    i understand ur logic even though im a passive hindu

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  3. Let the pavilions of religion be ground to bits,
    let the bricks of temples, mosques, guruduaras, churches be burned in blind fire,


    I'm not a Sikh, but I personally love going to a gurudwara for langar, so I wouldn't want gurudwaras to be burned. That seems to be coming from a place of hate or being inconsiderate, not love or harmony.

    It's despicable how she was treated by Muslim hooligans, and there is no place for such behavior in today's societies. But I will take Kabir over Taslima any day - because what she proposes is a reaction. I doubt if tomorrow, all religious places of worship somehow disappeared and schools appeared in their places, all human hatred and problems would also disappear.

    Somehow, if there are major problems with some religions, it becomes fashionable (thanks Dawkins) to put all religions (even those that are harmless) into the same basket - which to me doesn't seem like a rational position. Live and let live.

    maala, lakkad, thakur, paththar, teerath, sagre paani
    ram, krishna marte dekhe, chaaron ved kahaani
    kankar, paththar jodke masjid lai banaye
    va chadh mulla baang de, ka bahiro bhayo khudaye

    pothi padhi padhi jag muya, pandit bhaya na koi
    dhai akhar prem ka, padhe so pandit hoye

    -Amit

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  4. Amit:

    According to Wikipedia, I quote,

    Up until September 11, 2001, the Air India bombing was the single deadliest terrorist attack involving aircraft. It is also the largest mass murder in Canadian history. It occurred within an hour of the Narita Airport Bombing.

    Who was responsible for this? Sikhs. Why? The perpetrators wanted to create a Sikh nation - Khalistan. Sound familiar?

    Do you know anyone who lost his/her loved ones in the Air India Flight 182 crash in 1985? I know someone who lost her entire family - husband and two very young daughters, one of them barely six or seven, if I recall right. A bharatha natyam exponent, I saw her perform in LA, a few months after the downing of the aircraft. Passionate and dedicated, dance was her only hold on life then. She began with a dance to Subhramanya Bharathi's [a Tamil poet] chinnanchiru kiliye [literal traslation - my tiny parrot], a song addressed to a daughter. There was not one person in the audience with dry eyes. Two decades and after, it's difficult for me to describe to you what I feel every time I hear chinnanchiru kiliye, one of my favorites.

    I don't believe that any religion can claim to be "holier than another" - no pun intended. All religions are bad; some are worse. Also, please read what Taslima Nasreen means, not what she writes [paraphrasing Feynman]. I don't think - nor do I think Dr. Nasreen thinks - that "if tomorrow, all religious places of worship somehow disappeared and schools appeared in their places, all human hatred and problems would also disappear", but it will be a darn good beginning!

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  5. I don't deny the terrorist act you mention, and nor do I personally know someone who died in it, but is hate in return for hate the solution?

    It's ironic that you mention bharatnatyam, which according to wikipedia "is thought to have been created by Bharata Muni, a Hindu sage, who wrote the Natya Shastra, the most important ancient treatise on classical Indian dance. It is also called the fifth Veda in reference to the foundation of Hindu religion and philosophy, from which sprang the related South Indian musical tradition of Carnatic music."

    So, let's throw that out too - which in your own words evoked such beautiful emotions in you and rest of the audience, because Hindu extremists have killed people in riots and brought down Babri Masjid.

    I do understand what Taslima meant. But my point is that if human hatred is the reason for the despicable acts we do, then removing places of worship won't remove that hatred. It'll simply re-appear in some other form where one group will find a way to discriminate another group.

    But if you are of the opinion that all religions should be thrown out, I wish you good luck in that endeavor.

    -Amit

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  6. Also, please read what Taslima Nasreen means, not what she writes [paraphrasing Feynman].

    So you do acknowledge that words can be misinterpreted. Is the problem with her poem, or the people who are interpreting it in unintended ways? :)

    Now, many moderate and peaceful adherents of religions that are being used to harm people could make the same argument too.

    -Amit

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  7. They could, but they are wrong ;)

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  8. I find in several comments to good blog posts (like this one) on the Nasrin issue that there is a common thread: defend religion and rubbish Nasrin. These people ALL are missing the point The Rational Fool and others (including myself) are making: it is a person's inviolable right to speak her mind. If you don't like it, get off. Don't read, don't buy. Don't try an d tell me I shouldn't hear or read her. Just stop there. I will decide that.
    Another point is that religion is, by the nature of it subjugating reason to faith in an unknowable Being, is already successful at the outset by taking away your rationality. After that, it is no big deal to control you: make you fast, or risk your life climbing holy mountains, bathe in filthy rivers, or issue lunatic fatwas. I believe religion (as the most visible form of collectivism) is the modern world's greatest ill.

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  9. rambodoc, was your comment for me? :)
    If so, please feel free to direct your response at me - I'm happy to discuss and explain my point-of-view, while listening to yours.

    Just for the record, I fully support freedom of speech, even if it offends me. I haven't read any books by Taslima, so I have no idea as to what her writings are like. I was responding to the one poem of hers that rational fool had mentioned in the post.

    As for religion, I'm an atheist, but I will defend any attempts to lump all religions in one basket and to throw them all out. If you want to criticize religions based on their actions on a case-by-case basis, I'll be happy to lend my support. As science starts to answer all the unanswered questions and as we humans evolve, our need for religion will also go away. Try taking away a toy from a 3-year old and see if he keeps quiet instead of raising a tantrum. People who suggest that we should dump all religions are suggesting something like that, and expecting the child to remain calm.

    Also, in my personal experience, I have found value in certain aspects of religion, so why should I throw them out just because others don't realize its benefits or don't care for those benefits? As long as it doesn't harm you and doesn't harm the society, why should it matter to you what I do? If you want to impose your views (no religion) on everyone, how are you any different from MIM that attacked Taslima? Everyone should be allowed to practice their religion/spiritual path/Flying Spaghetti Monster/whatever in their personal space (i.e. secular society) as long as they don't hurt others.

    I think some of the reactions to abolish all religions come from the thinking that in today's world, people see Islam as a huge problem (rightly so) but how to reform/get rid of just Islam without coming across as discriminatory? Out of this frustration comes the solution: let's just get rid of all religions, even if some of them have done nothing to hurt people like Islam has, or are quite compatible with science and rationality. Problem solved.

    You wrote: make you fast, or risk your life climbing holy mountains, bathe in filthy rivers, [snip]

    If some of those are directed at Hinduism, I can assure you that there's more to the religion than just those activities - which I agree with you are not essential. Also, people risk their lives climbing Mt. Everest every year. Is that irrational too? And if from your POV it is, should it be banned?

    Also, if tomorrow, a scientific study came out that said fasting is beneficial for health, you'd probably agree and start fasting. But, if the same thing is done under religion, you think it's irrational. I'd like to invite you to at least consider the possibility that we may have lost the reasons for such actions, and as such, these actions have become dogmatic and appear irrational today. I'm not defending blind religious actions, nor am I saying that we shouldn't question them, but simply that we should throw them out for the right reasons: only after exploring that they are useless, and not because they fall under the umbrella of religion. That's the least we can do if we claim to be rational.

    For example, both Hinduism and Buddhism have the concept of reincarnation/rebirth, which going by your post, I'd be safe to assume that you probably think are irrational and stupid. Now check these links out:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Stevenson
    http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/books/stevenson.htm

    Oh, and BTW, if the thought crossed your mind, rest assured that I'm not a saffronite, nor do I agree with their moral policing in India. :)

    -Amit

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  10. Anonymous Amit,
    I did not direct any comment at you in particular, but now I do so:
    There is no question of banning anything, whether it is stupidity, superstition or religion. I would just ensure that the State or its policies have NOTHING to do with any of it.
    There is great problem with people like myself accepting religion today or tomorrow. Those fundamentals are deeply rooted in epistemology and ethics. Too vast to discuss and argue without a level of meeting of minds! Especially when you haven't decided whether to be called an atheist or religionist! :-)

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  11. This is obviously digressing from the topic at hand, but I could not resist. Reincarnation may have a logical scientific explanation. Look at 1st law of thermodynamics. -In any process, the total energy of the universe remains constant. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics

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  12. There is great problem with people like myself accepting religion today or tomorrow.

    Well, no one is asking you to accept it - you have your freedom. :)

    Those fundamentals are deeply rooted in epistemology and ethics. Too vast to discuss and argue without a level of meeting of minds! Especially when you haven't decided whether to be called an atheist or religionist!

    Ah, we humans are always so ready to box each other into neat little boxes of -isms. I could make the argument that you haven't gone beyond that, so we shouldn't discuss - but that would be condescending and highbrow on my part. But, do you really discuss issues only with people who agree with your views? That's like preaching to the choir. Or with those who are virulently opposed to yours because it is intellectually exciting? Try explaining what you understand to others - you may be surprised that there are minds out there that can meet yours. I'd be happy to listen to what you have to say. If your theory is so complex that only geniuses can comprehend it, it'll take volumes to expound, and cannot be explained to laymen in simple words, then it's not much useful. Or do I have to read "The God Delusion" or Ishwarchand Vidyasagar first before understanding where you're coming from? ;)

    As I said before (and I'll say it again), not all religions have a concept of god, or are irrational and incompatible with science. You seem to be coming from a position that all religions are theistic, or that being an atheist implies being against all religions (seems like atheism is a lot like Islam :p) - which is simply not true. From what I know, there is a wide variety of opinions among atheists. If you reject everything without even exploring it (or that a religion cannot be atheistic) just because it has a "religion" tag, that's hardly rational IMO. That's one of the drawbacks of boxing.

    I would just ensure that the State or its policies have NOTHING to do with any of it.

    I think the same too - genuine secularism instead of selective/pseudo-secularism that has been practiced in India so far. See, we do agree on some things. :)

    And finally, it's fine to agree to disagree - I don't claim to know all the answers, and I'd doubt that you do too. We're all learning as we go along.

    -Amit

    PS. You probably must've read Kabir. There's a poem by him that goes something like this:
    pothi padhi padhi jag mua
    pandit bhaya na koi
    dhai aakhar prem ka
    padhe jo pandit hoye

    Any concept, theory, practice - call it religion, science, whatever name you want - that helps me move towards that path is what I'm for. So, want to meet me there, or is that not intellectual enough? ;)

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  13. One more thing, I'm surprised why can't I be an atheist and still defend lumping of all religions in one basket?

    It's like saying that if I'm heterosexual, I cannot defend the rights of gays and lesbians.

    -Amit

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  14. dotmom,

    The First Law of Thermodynamics is a simple account balancing of energy. It says nothing about the composition of the forms or types of energy that are on the credit and the debit side. If you contend that when my body dies and decays, it is reincarnated as the energy content of a bunch of molecules, atoms, photons and other subatomic particles distributed randomly in this and perhaps other universes, I am with you :)

    rambodoc,

    The greatest threat to India - read, the Constitution of India - comes from inside, and it is the rapidly mushrooming threat to freedom of expression. Everyone seems to be protesting (peacefully or violently) that he/she is offended by something said or printed! Witness a few examples: the Kushboo incident in Tamil Nadu, the banning of the Satanic Verses, vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, the CPM's banning of Taslima's Dwikhandito ...

    anonymous/amit,

    I am with rambodoc that any meaningful discussion of religion is difficult, unless we agree on a common epistemological basis. For starters, I define religion as a non-separable collection of beliefs and assertions that are not falsifiable, cannot be deduced from current theory, and/or unsupported by empirical evidence. Religion is, therefore, in my definition an antithesis of science. God is just one of such beliefs or assertions, common to most religions. A superhuman being (almost always anthropomorphic) as the cause or the creator of the universe is another. That there is a divinely ordained pecking order of the human subspecies is yet another. If you don't agree with my definition of religion, we have little to go on further (from your comments, it looks like you don't; call it the Fifth Veda or whatever you like, Natya Shastra is as much of a religion as impressionism or baroque is!).

    And, you wrote:
    If you want to impose your views (no religion) on everyone, how are you any different from MIM that attacked Taslima?

    I am not imposing on you my definition of religion, or any other view of mine on religion by expressing it on my blog. I reject your attempt to equate rambodoc's or my expression of our views on religion with throwing chairs at Taslima Nasreen and exhorting the Islamic faithfuls to kill her.

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  15. For starters, I define religion as a non-separable collection of beliefs and assertions that are not falsifiable, cannot be deduced from current theory, and/or unsupported by empirical evidence. Religion is, therefore, in my definition an antithesis of science.

    Good. Now we are getting somewhere. I have no disagreement with that. Religion is not science and in general deals with faith, whereas science deals with evidence.

    I am not imposing on you my definition of religion, or any other view of mine on religion by expressing it on my blog. I reject your attempt to equate rambodoc's or my expression of our views on religion with throwing chairs at Taslima Nasreen and exhorting the Islamic faithfuls to kill her.

    My mistake. I should have paraphrased it better. As for fifth veda and bharatnatyam, I haven't studied any vedas, but the point I was trying to make is that bharatnatyam is the product of the same religion you are so happy to dump. That's all.

    While I understand your and rambodoc's position, I just think we are seeing the same thing from different places. If it comes to intellectual, theoretical debate, I agree with what you're saying, but when it comes to practical aspect, I disagree. To quote/paraphrase one of my favorite scientists: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is."

    Your blog. You mean you somehow own or control the random dance of sub-atomic particles that constitutes your blog (or for that matter you)? ;)

    Cheers,
    -Amit

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