Posted on 02-06-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This blog has railed against the crude religious stereotyping that Faux News and certain Republican politicians have engaged in this country since 9/11.  The problem with that bile is that they liberally apply it to every single Muslim in this country, even though American Muslims are generally well integrated (though losers like the Tsarnaevs do exist) into this country – inspite of the efforts by Islamists and nativist xenophobes to change that.

It has been a different story in Europe.  Europe is not an immigrant society and historically has not gone out of its way to assimilate immigrants.  Immigrants in Europe complain of open discrimination in housing and employment that essentially forces them into ghettos and unemployment.  But it is increasingly clear that the blame cannot be solely on the host country.

If a country accepting immigrants has an obligation to alleviate discrimination and help integrate immigrants into society, immigrants have an obligation too.  This cautionary tale from Antwerp shows how hard it can be for liberal societies to protect their liberal values and the rights of less liberal minorities. You cannot expect to move abroad and expect that your hosts will start living life as you want it to be in some idealized dream of your home country.  Immigrants also have an obligation to respect the law of the nation they move to.

The United Kingdom has long been a breeding ground for Islamic extremism stemming from the latter two points.  For the last 30 years and more it has welcomed Muslim immigrants from Pakistan who stubbornly refuse to integrate.  Worse time and again many of these jihadist preachers demand that Britain adopt sharia law to satisfy them.  The caricatures that Faux News and the Pamela Gellers rely on are very evident there.

The video below from a young British woman who visited her hometown on hearing it had become a hotbed for Islamic radicalism is really something.

A brave British woman shows why Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka is right when he calls England a ‘cesspit’ breeding Islamists from Tarek Fatah on Vimeo.

At about 3:19 in the video is a truly amazing exchange.  The jihadist rally protested the temerity of the British police in arresting a Muslim woman.  So the woman raises the obvious point that nobody should be above the law.  Pat comes this amazing response:

If the law of the land is Islamic, we will respect the law of the land….If [the law] is not Islamic, then those that make it can go to hell.

Now it is not clear the speaker is an immigrant, but immigrants who believe this need their ass shipped out so they can rot in their old country.

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Posted on 21-10-2010
Filed Under (Politics, Religion) by Rashtrakut

This is just embarrassing.  President Obama during his visit to India will be skipping a trip to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  The Sikh shrine is a common stop for visiting dignitaries.  Unfortunately it requires visitors to cover their heads.  Sikhs have already been targeted by ignorant bigots in the past who confuse their turbans with the headgear worn by Osama Bin Laden, and evidently in this country any such covering is Islamic.

Singed by a previous controversy during the presidential primaries when pictures of him wearing traditional garb during a trip to Africa surfaced, the Obama administration is shying clear of any repeat performance.  The underlying politics are simple.  With increasing numbers of Republicans convinced that he is a Muslim and significant numbers doubting his citizenship, the administration wants to avoid adding grist to the nutjob’s mills.

While discretion may sometimes be the better part of valor, I am disappointed with this decision.  In an atmosphere of anti-Islamic bigotry ginned up over the summer by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin (and more recently with Islamophobic statements uttered by prominent Fox “News” personalities and bigots like Marty Peretz with no repercussions), the administration could have taken a bold stand for tolerance and common sense.

But instead we have an American President afraid to go into a Sikh shrine because ignorant bigots in his country will use it as further evidence that he is a Muslim – and thereby also lending credence to the viewpoint that somehow it is wrong to be a Muslim in American public life.  Here’s hoping that it is not too late to reverse this decision.

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Posted on 30-09-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, History, India, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One Hundred and Forty Seven years after the dispute began, the Allahabad High Court rendered a Solomonic verdict designed to end a dispute that rocked and changed Indian politics over the last 25 years.  The court appears to have formalized the solution implemented by the British when riots first broke out over the controversial Babri Masjid.

The mosque was built on the orders of the first Mughal Emperor Babur on the site of either an old or existing Hindu temple that Hindus believed marked the birthplace of one of their prominent deities Ram.  The original British solution was to give both sides access to the site for worship.  Ninety years after the first attempt at a Solomonic compromise the issue flared up again in 1949 when idols were smuggled into the mosque  resulting in Indian government sealing the site.  The dispute picked up steam in 1984 and burst into Indian national consciousness when the Bharatiya Janata Party seized the issue to highlight simmering grievances of the Hindu majority.  The mosque was destroyed by a mob in 1992 resulting in riots across India.

Today’s decision split the site among three litigants (2 Hindu and 1 Muslim) and dismissed a couple of other cases.  The Sunni Waqf Board (which recieved the Muslim portion) has indicated it will appeal.  Given the political consensus rallying around this verdict it is likely that the Indian Supreme Court will uphold the decision.  With the troubled Commonwealth Games about to start, the Indian government must be breathing a sigh of relief at the calm that has greeted the verdict.  Oddly enough the street protests are occurring in neighboring Pakistan whose militants will add this to their litany of perceived grievances at the hands of India.

I am not surprised by the verdict.  It was the only way to resolve an intractable dispute.  But splitting the baby is not the solution for all such disputes in India in the future.  The Babri Masjid was not the only mosque built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.  However, the length of the dispute, the fact that the rights of Hindus to worship on the site had essentially been conceded in 1859, and the mosque being unused since 1949 were all special circumstances that made this verdict possible.  This will not be the case in other disputes.  At some point there has to be a statute of limitations for resolving medieval wrongs.  Hopefully with this verdict the statute has now run out.

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

European Islamophobia masquerading as womens lib has made its way to Canada.  With the blessings of Canada’s prime minister Quebec is all set to prohibit Muslim women wearing face veils from public sector jobs or access to public services.  See link.  I tend to agree with the author.  This is an embrace of feminist thought that allows women to make choices so long as the self proclaimed guardians of women’s liberty approve of it.

As I noted a couple of months ago in this blog and as the author in the article above notes, this is conceptually not different from the Saudis and the Taliban forcing the veil. Obviously the right to veil yourself should not be absolute.  There are certain situations like security checkpoints where it is essential to have an unveiled face.  Also this should be a free choice and not a coerced one.

Canada has not yet got to the ridiculous French notion of banning head scarves in schools, but it will be a matter of time before someone raises it.

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Posted on 10-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics, Religion) by Rashtrakut

On December 32, 2009 a Malaysian court overturned a government ban of usage of the word Allah to denote the Christian god.  Since then hell has broken loose with Churches in the moderate Muslim majority country being firebombed and vandalized.  Accusations have been made that the ruling party whose hold on power is weakening is using the issue to consolidate support among the majority Malay (and Muslim) community.  If so that would be a tragedy.  Before the Saudis found oil and exported their blinkered view of Islam globally, Malaysia (and neighboring Indonesia) were shining examples of how Islam can peacefully coexist with other religions.  Now that is being put at risk by a rather silly dispute on terminology.

Islam acknowledges that God sent prophets to other peoples before the arrival of Muhammad.  This list specifically includes Jesus and Christians are deemed “people of the book” to whom god made a divine revelation and provided a book of prayer.  It naturally follows in Islamic theology that the God of the Christians (setting aside the concept the trinity and the divinity of Jesus which Muslims do not accept and is not at issue here) is the same divine entity.  Indeed under the monotheism inherent in Islam a different interpretation cannot hold.  Yet for some reason Malaysia banned Christians from using the word Allah to denote God in the Malay tongue.  Evidently the alternative words available to be used in native dialects did not measure up to a representation of the divine and Christians asked that the ban be rescinded.  Now fanatics with a limited grasp on their own theology have resorted to violence.

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The Mughal Emperor Akbar is famous for his tolerance (including the repeal of the jizya on the non Muslim population) and his open encouragement of religious debate that resulted in an attempt to create a syncretic faith the Din-i-ilahi.  While browsing through the upcoming CNG Triton XIII auction, I stumbled across a numismatic example of this tolerance from this coin depicting the Hindu deity Ram and his consort Sita.

This is a fascinating coin on so many levels.  First, it is a rare numismatic representation of Ram and it is ironic that it appears on the coinage of a Muslim ruler. To the extent Hindu coinage represented deities, the goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) was the most popular choice (See here, here, here and here for examples).  Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva and their consorts make their appearance on Vijayanagar coinage.  But Ram is a rare subject for Indian numismatics (after a quick search I found this coin for Akbar’s Vijayanagar contemporary Tirumala II but have not seen many more) and is more likely to show up on temple tokens.

Then there is the irony that Ram would be the subject matter of this coin.  Akbar’s grandfather Babur allegedly destroyed the temple built on the site of Ram’s birthplace.  A movement to correct this historical wrong has simmered for about 150 years until it burst on to the Indian political landscape in the 1980s.  The after effects are still felt today.

Finally there is the unusual presence of images on Muslim coins.  Since the religion eschews depictions of the human form, Islamic coinage has often relied on calligraphy and geometric forms (See here and here) to enhance the coinage.  Images appeared in transitional coinage like the Arab-Sassanian or the Arab-Byzantine variety or by Muhammad Bin Sam after his conquest of Delhi where he continued the gold coinage with Lakshmi for a while.  There were a few coins on horseback like the Seljuks or Iltumish (See coins 216 and 217 on page 14) of the Delhi Sultanate or the series by Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw II honoring his wife.

Akbar’s son and successor Jahangir would commission an equally fascinating (and as a result now widely forged) series of Zodiac coins.  But the open adoption of another deity in a non-transitional coin is unique in Islamic numismatics (indeed the incorporation of Jesus Christ on Byzantine coinage by Justinian II caused the caliph Abd al-Malik to commence the tradition of Islamic coinage largely bearing scripts).

A truly fascinating (and given the estimate, expensive) example how far Akbar’s theological discussions and disputations took him.

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http://www.vcoins.com/ancient/ancientcoinscanada/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=8002
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Posted on 30-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Displaying the flaws in holding fundamental freedoms hostage to the caprices of public referendums, Swiss voters in a distressing result voted to ban the construction of minarets.  One can understand the unease in countries that historically have not faced waves of immigrants from alien cultures (or from a religion with whom there has been an inherent sense of hostility for about 1,400 years) as they struggle to absorb these new immigrants while preserving a sense of national identity and shared cultural values. But as they complain about the refusal to immigrants to look outside their ethnic ghettos, one wonders why people think a vote like this would help the assimilation process (the same goes for the equally idiotic French decision to ban head scarves in schools).  As previously posted on this blog, integration is a complicated issue but rank fear based bigotry does not help matters.

It is tempting to point to the United States as an example, but this country has acquired experience absorbing immigrants since its inception.  Even here the process has been hard, from Benjamin Franklin complaining about the effect of rising German immigration on the use of English and the resulting political threat (sound familiar Mr. Dobbs?) to concerns a 100 years ago that Italian immigrants were importing their brand of seditious anarchism.  But this country survived and the original English culture grew richer by the addition.  It is not an easy lesson to transfer to the inherently more culturally conservative and homogeneous old world.

It will be interesting to observe whether the vote this weekend leads to a financial backlash.  The usual bunch of xenophobes in Denmark and The Netherlands have already piped up to call for similar referendums.  Just how far this spreads remains to be seen.  However, it is still unclear whether this referendum will be upheld by Swiss courts.

One final point in this imbroglio should be made.  While Muslim immigrant groups in Europe should speak up to combat discrimination, it is hard to extend the same latitude to the howls of outrage emanating from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc.  While some of these countries are all to willing to cast stones at Europe, they have been singularly unwilling to grant similar freedoms to religious minorities at home.   And the religious minorities in many cases are not foreign immigrants but locals.  As the old saying goes, people in glass houses should not toss stones.

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Posted on 06-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood yesterday brings to the forefront how to combat extremism domestically without alienating all other Muslims in a manner that would prevent them from cooperating with law enforcement.  Bracing for the inevitable backlash, most major Muslim organizations have already condemned the attack.  Inevitably the usual suspects on the right and on Fox News have giddily started tarring the entire Muslim community and suggesting solutions that would result in an alienation of the Muslim minority in the United States as is the case in Europe.  A link from Andrew Sullivan raising this point.

The Obama administration seems to understand this point.  Here’s hoping they stand up for their principles to avoid the counterproductive ethnic profiling of the past eight years to identify meaningful ways to separate the dangerous extremists from the rest.  To close this post out is an article about the thoughts of a Muslim soldier at Fort Hood who interacted with Major Hasan.

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Posted on 02-11-2009
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The National in the UAE has an article about the perils of American allies thwarting moderate Islamic parties that are trying to stay within the system.  It is very similar to the debate that has played out in Turkey over the last fifteen years, where the military backed secular establishment repeatedly thwarted religious parties from coming to power.  Ultimately a commitment to democracy means that you must also be willing to accept an undesirable result.

Jordan and Egypt are headed down a treacherous road.  While their regimes have cause to fear Islamic radicals, excluding such a large portion of the political spectrum will likely lead to a bloody dénouement.

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Posted on 14-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

This story and the comments by the anonymous Internet warriors is disgusting. A bunch of Republican congressmen felt it incumbent upon themselves to have the House Sergeant at Arms investigate the “infiltration” of Congress through Muslim staffers and interns. Oh the horror!!!

This post brings up the question from General Powell quoted in a previous blog. “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The bigotry spewed from the right wing now reaches such proportions that Republican congressmen (albeit from the extreme fringe of an already fringe party) seek to initiate a McCarthyesque search for “infiltration” of Congress by the practitioners of a religion with over a billion practitioners world wide.

In this world view Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Wahhabi inspired fundamentalist preachers somehow represent the religious spectrum of an entire faith in a way that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell could never do so for Christianity. While lashing out at the bloody history of radicalized Islam, they conveniently forget the violence wreaked elsewhere by other religions.

This must stop. Substitute Arab or Islam in these screeds with any other race or religion and even the supine Republican leadership that kowtows to these purveyors of hate would have to step in. The Republican Party attempted to re-brand itself with a new website this week, only to find that all its civil rights heroes dated before the Civil Rights Act or back to the Civil War and that baseball hero Jackie Robinson was an independent who turned against the Republican Party after the 1964 convention that nominated Barry Goldwater. The Republican Party lost its moral high ground on race when it embraced the Southern strategy. It is time it rediscovered its civil rights roots and displayed the moral fortitude to stand up to the rank bigotry some of its congressmen displayed today.

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Posted on 03-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Politics, Religion) by Rashtrakut

A friend brought this video to my attention a few days back

Nice of Lindsey Graham to assure us that Barack Obama is not a Muslim. John McCain did the same during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. On his “Fight the Smears” site Barack Obama attacked he “smear” that he was a Muslim.

However, Colin Powell is about the only public figure to ask the basic question “[W]hat if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?”
New Yorker Slideshow - Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan.

Powell’s comments were prompted by the picture above in a New Yorker photo-shoot of a grieving mother mourning her dead soldier son who happened to be a Muslim.  Regrettably very few politicians have stepped up and embraced Powell’s message.

In a post-911 world it appears that two kinds of public bigotry are acceptable. Against Arabs and Muslims. Hence the screeds by Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingram etc. that would have been unacceptable against other ethnic groups are somehow deemed an acceptable part of the public discourse.

There was some push back when right wing commentator Dennis Prager suggested that Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison was somehow being unpatriotic by taking his oath on office on the Quran instead of the Bible.  But most politicians stayed away from the fray in calling out Prager’s bigotry.  Generally politicians, including Barack Obama, have elected to observe the maxim that discretion is the better part of valor.

With its history of absorbing immigrants America has avoided the ghettoization and radicalization of its Muslim immigrants. It would be unfortunate if short sighted jingoism for political gins achieved that end.

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Posted on 30-09-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One of the fascinating (and disturbing) after effects of 9/11 has been the willingness in the West to present Islam as a faith inherently violent and antithetical to peaceful co-existence with other religions. This ignores the bloody history and bouts of intolerance of the other Abrahamic faiths. The deeper irony is that the ones preaching the evils of Islam in the West, particularly in America, are often the ones who fail to recognize or appreciate why America and Europe are not theocracies in the Iranian mold. Early American colonies were founded for the religious freedom of only its founders. The Puritans did not extend the same courtesy to others.

It wasn’t until the Enlightenment and the separation of church and state (something hated by Christian fundamentalists today) that many of the freedoms we take for granted in the West occurred.

The history of any religion is amazingly consistent in its patterns – whether there is an Episcopal hierarchy like the Catholic Church or whether it does not have a formal organization or structure like Hinduism. The priestly class tries to stick itself at the top of the hierarchy, the secular class pushes back. Translating the holy books into the language of the common man causes concerns – from legitimate ones regarding the quality of the translation to the more cynical power grab deeming it blasphemy. Even if Rulers do not want priests dictating to them they are more than willing to use it as a matter of state policy.

It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that states of Western Europe and America would stop seeing to “make windows into men’s hearts and secret thoughts.”   The reduction of religion’s role in political life (something the right wing is furiously trying to overturn) has been a big part of why Christianity and Judaism seem more tolerant today. It is also unfortunate that the Hindutva brigade in India instead of embracing the ecumenical tradition of its faith is intent of emulating the worst bigotry of the monotheistic faiths they despise.

In addition to the secularism encouraged by the Enlightenment there is the social revolution in the West in the aftermath of World War II when women entered the professional workforce in droves (in spite of the attempt turn the clock back in the 50s) followed by the sexual revolution of the 60s. That social transformation caused immense cultural dislocation in the West. It is hardly surprising that the Islamic world which was not subject to the same social transformation time table and hade more traditionalist societies to begin with has not kept up.

Ironically it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that may ultimately convince the Islamic world of the benefits of separating church and state. It is the living example of the axiom that combining religion and politics tarnishes both. Even though the Green Revolution this summer was crushed by what was essentially a coup d’état it is unclear whether the regime is sustainable. By all accounts the power hungry mullahs are widely despised by a populace mostly born after the fall of the Shah. The Chinese regime survived by quietly morphing into fascists and providing double digit growth in exchange for freedom. The Iranian economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

Unlike the Baathist regime in Syria and previously in Iraq the mullahcracy does not appear to have a similar iron grip and has not yet displayed a willingness to mete out a Hama or a Halabja.

If the regime does fall, a relatively secularized Iran will be a far more appealing and enduring symbol of secularism in the Middle East than the to-down variety imposed by Ataturk in Turkey. For every Ataturk, there are many King Amanullahs.

While the Obama administration has had its missteps, it is refreshing to see leadership in Washington that understands that it should not step in when its enemy is doing a good job hanging itself. Given the debacle of regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, the shortage of troops and the absence of any staging sites to launch an invasion, it hard to understand what the bomb Iran crowd expects its belligerence and desire for machismo will achieve.

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