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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Posted on 26-09-2009
Filed Under (History, India, Politics & Propaganda) by Rashtrakut

Many successful rulers and administrators have often failed to grasp the importance of good public relations.  As a result, an otherwise competent or successful tenure in office has been marred by rising unpopularity. Others have excelled far too well on the propaganda side of governance until the inevitable disclosure that the emperor wore no clothes. Very few rulers have managed to find a fine blend of the two and the very success of the public relations campaign makes an honest appraisal difficult.

This is the first in a series of appraisals of rulers through history and whether their reputations are deserved, undeserved or over inflated.

The Emperor Ashoka is a fine example of this. The Wikipedia entry on his life contains a list of the usual platitudes about his reign and how his reign was a golden age of peace and prosperity. The only problem is that almost all the extant data of his reign comes from pillars and rock inscriptions placed by Ashoka across his vast empire. The third Mauryan emperor knew the value of propaganda. Read the rest of this entry »

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