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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fears for Democracy in India

Fears for Democracy in India
Intro by Mike Ghouse, article by Nussbaum

As Indians, and as a nation that has led the world in civility and plurality, we have to continue to work with this recipe for harmonious co-existence. Our heritage is made of stuff that will last, we will see temporary set backs, but in the long run, pluralistic heritage will flourish.

As a naion, we are doing a lot of good things; there are people out there like Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore, who believe, for India to be a successful and a stable nation we have to work on the formula of goodness for all. Goodness for one at the cost of the other will not last longer, our movies depict that notion incessantly, and our stories are geared with Satyameva Jayate. The truth ultimately triumphs. As we progress, we have to acknowledge our failures, our evilness and work on doing thing are good for all. I cannot live in peace if what is around me is not peaceful. Peace is a necessity, blaming others is stupidity.

The conflicts are not between Dalits and Brahmins, Hindus or Muslims, it is the product of injustice and inequality in the society. If we focus on it instead of religion, we can realize accomplishments. I have seen only a few of the Amitabh Bachchan's movies, but they are a reflection of this phenomenon. Ultimately water finds its own level. All of us have to place our cards on the table and re-evaluate what is that we want? If there is an element of force, an element of oppression, then it will take a longer time, on the other hand if Justice is the basis of our solutions, we will see the results sooner.

There is a great economic imbalance emerging; with the mega malls and lavishness on one hand, and incurable poverty on the other is bound to bring clashes, bound to throw us off the balance. We may be seeing conflicts of this sort... we have to include this aspect in our nation building.

At a deeper level, as Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

Ultimately each one of us have to seek our own Moksha; if we know it is not earned by oppression, hate and ill-will, we probably can see a better world. I am hopeful.

The following article by Nussbaum will take you through the roller coaster, as you read, kindly frame your mind for solutions with equity and not hate. You will find peace, if not please do not read any further.

Mike Ghouse
Pluralism Buddhism Islam Religion India Terrorism Multi-Culturism

From Chronicle of Higher Education

From the issue dated May 18, 2007

Fears for Democracy in India

On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati express train
arrived in the station of Godhra, in the state of
Gujarat, bearing a large group of Hindu pilgrims who
were returning from a trip to the purported birthplace
of the god Rama at Ayodhya (where, some years earlier,
angry Hindu mobs had destroyed the Babri mosque, which
they claimed was on top of the remains of Rama's
birthplace). The pilgrimage, like many others in
recent times, aimed at forcibly constructing a temple
over the disputed site, and the mood of the returning
passengers, frustrated in their aims by the government
and the courts, was angrily emotional. When the train
stopped at the station, the Hindu passengers got into
arguments with Muslim passengers and vendors. At least
one Muslim vendor was beaten up when he refused to say
Jai Sri Ram ("Hail Rama"). As the train left the
station, stones were thrown at it, apparently by

Fifteen minutes later, one car of the train erupted in
flames. Fifty-eight men, women, and children died in
the fire. Most of the dead were Hindus. Because the
area adjacent to the tracks was made up of Muslim
dwellings, and because a Muslim mob had gathered in
the region to protest the treatment of Muslims on the
train platform, blame was immediately put on Muslims.
Many people were arrested, and some of those are still
in detention without charge — despite the fact that
two independent inquiries have established through
careful sifting of the forensic evidence that the fire
was most probably a tragic accident, caused by
combustion from cookstoves carried on by the
passengers and stored under the seats of the train.

In the days that followed the incident, wave upon wave
of violence swept through the state. The attackers
were Hindus, many of them highly politicized, shouting
slogans of the Hindu right, along with "Kill!
Destroy!" and "Slaughter!" There is copious evidence
that the violent retaliation was planned before the
precipitating event by Hindu extremist organizations
that had been waiting for an occasion. No one was
spared: Young children were thrown into fires along
with their families, fetuses ripped from the bellies
of pregnant women. Particularly striking was the
number of women who were raped, mutilated, in some
cases tortured with large metal objects, and then set
on fire. Over the course of several weeks, about 2,000
Muslims were killed.

Most alarming was the total breakdown in the rule of
law — not only at the local level but also at that of
the state and national governments. Police were
ordered not to stop the violence. Some egged it on.
Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, rationalized
and even encouraged the murders. He was later
re-elected on a platform that focused on religious
hatred. Meanwhile the national government showed a
culpable indifference. Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee suggested that religious riots were
inevitable wherever Muslims lived alongside Hindus,
and that troublemaking Muslims were to blame.

While Americans have focused on President Bush's "war
on terror," Iraq, and the Middle East, democracy has
been under siege in another part of the world. India —
the most populous of all democracies, and a country
whose Constitution protects human rights even more
comprehensively than our own — has been in crisis.
Until the spring of 2004, its parliamentary government
was increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu
extremists who condoned and in some cases actively
supported violence against minority groups, especially

What has been happening in India is a serious threat
to the future of democracy in the world. The fact that
it has yet to make it onto the radar screen of most
Americans is evidence of the way in which terrorism
and the war on Iraq have distracted us from events and
issues of fundamental significance. If we really want
to understand the impact of religious nationalism on
democratic values, India currently provides a deeply
troubling example, and one without which any
understanding of the more general phenomenon is
dangerously incomplete. It also provides an example of
how democracy can survive the assault of religious

In May 2004, the voters of India went to the polls in
large numbers. Contrary to all predictions, they gave
the Hindu right a resounding defeat. Many right-wing
political groups and the social organizations allied
with them remain extremely powerful, however. The rule
of law and democracy has shown impressive strength and
resilience, but the future is unclear.

The case of Gujarat is a lens through which to conduct
a critical examination of the influential thesis of
the "clash of civilizations," made famous by the
political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. His picture
of the world as riven between democratic Western
values and an aggressive Muslim monolith does nothing
to help us understand today's India, where, I shall
argue, the violent values of the Hindu right are
imports from European fascism of the 1930s, and where
the third-largest Muslim population in the world lives
as peaceful democratic citizens, despite severe
poverty and other inequalities.

The real "clash of civilizations" is not between
"Islam" and "the West," but instead within virtually
all modern nations — between people who are prepared
to live on terms of equal respect with others who are
different, and those who seek the protection of
homogeneity and the domination of a single "pure"
religious and ethnic tradition. At a deeper level, as
Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual
self, between the urge to dominate and defile the
other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms
of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability
that such a life entails.

This argument about India suggests a way to see
America, which is also torn between two different
pictures of itself. One shows the country as good and
pure, its enemies as an external "axis of evil." The
other picture, the fruit of internal self-criticism,
shows America as complex and flawed, torn between
forces bent on control and hierarchy and forces that
promote democratic equality. At what I've called the
Gandhian level, the argument about India shows
Americans to themselves as individuals, each of whom
is capable of both respect and aggression, both
democratic mutuality and anxious domination. Americans
have a great deal to gain by learning more about India
and pondering the ideas of some of her most
significant political thinkers, such as Sir
Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Gandhi, whose
ruminations about nationalism and the roots of
violence are intensely pertinent to today's conflicts.

A ccording to the Huntington thesis, each
"civilization" has its own distinctive view of life,
and Hinduism counts as a distinct "civilization." If
we investigate the history of the Hindu right,
however, we will see a very different story.
Traditional Hinduism was decentralized, plural, and
highly tolerant, so much so that the vision of a
unitary, "pure" Hinduism that could provide the new
nation, following independence from Britain in 1947,
with an aggressive ideology of homogeneity could not
be found in India: The founders of the Hindu right had
to import it from Europe.

The Hindu right's view of history is a simple one.
Like all simple tales, it is largely a fabrication,
but its importance to the movement may be seen by the
intensity with which its members go after scholars who
present a more nuanced and accurate view: not only by
strident public critiques, but by organized campaigns
of threat and intimidation, culminating in some cases
in physical violence. Here's how the story goes:

Once there lived in the Indus Valley a pure and
peaceful people. They spoke Vedic Sanskrit, the
language of the gods. They had a rich material culture
and a peaceful temper, although they were prepared for
war. Their realm was vast, stretching from Kashmir in
the north to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south. And yet
they saw unity and solidarity in their shared ways of
life, calling themselves Hindus and their land
Hindustan. No class divisions troubled them, nor was
caste a painful source of division. The condition of
women was excellent.

That peaceful condition went on for centuries.
Although from time to time marauders made their
appearance (for example, the Huns), they were quickly
dispatched. Suddenly, rudely, unprovoked, invading
Muslims put an end to all that. Early in the 16th
century, Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty, swept
through the north of Hindustan, vandalizing Hindu
temples, stealing sacred objects, building mosques
over temple ruins. For 200 years, Hindus lived at the
mercy of the marauders, until the Maharashtrian hero
Shivaji rose up and restored the Hindu kingdom. His
success was all too brief. Soon the British took up
where Babur and his progeny had left off, imposing
tyranny upon Hindustan and her people. They can
recover their pride only by concerted aggression
against alien elements in their midst.

What is wrong with that picture? Well, for a start,
the people who spoke Sanskrit almost certainly
migrated into the subcontinent from outside, finding
indigenous people there, probably the ancestors of the
Dravidian peoples of South India. Hindus are no more
indigenous than Muslims. Second, it leaves out
problems in Hindu society: the problem of caste, which
both Gandhi and Tagore took to be the central social
issue facing India, and obvious problems of class and
gender inequality. (When historians point to evidence
of these things, the Hindu right calls them Marxists,
as if that, by itself, invalidated their arguments.)
Third, it leaves out the tremendous regional
differences within Hinduism, and hostilities and
aggressions sometimes associated with those. Fourth,
it omits the evidence of peaceful coexistence and
syncretism between Hindus and Muslims for a good deal
of the Mughal Empire, including the well-known
policies of religious pluralism of Akbar (1542-1605).

In the Hindu-right version of history, a persistent
theme is that of humiliated masculinity: Hindus have
been subordinate for centuries, and their masculinity
insulted, in part because they have not been
aggressive and violent enough. The two leading
ideologues of the Hindu right responded to the call
for a warlike Hindu masculinity in different ways.
V.D. Savarkar (1883-1966) was a freedom fighter who
spent years in a British prison in the Andaman
Islands, and who may have been a co-conspirator in the
assassination of Gandhi. M.S. Golwalkar (1906-73), a
gurulike figure who was not involved in the
independence struggle, quietly helped build up the
organization known as RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, or National Volunteers Association), now the
leading social organization of the Hindu right.
Savarkar's "Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?," first
published in 1923, undertook to define the essence of
Hinduness for the new nation; his definition was
exclusionary, emphasizing cultural homogeneity and the
need to use force to ensure the supremacy of Hindus.

Golwalkar's We, or Our Nationhood Defined was
published in 1939. Writing during the independence
struggle, Golwalkar saw his task as describing the
unity of the new nation. To do that, he looked to
Western political theory, and particularly to Germany,
where what he called "race pride" helped bring "under
one sway the whole of the territory" that was
originally held by the Germani. By purging itself of
Jews, he wrote, "Germany has also shown how well nigh
impossible it is for Races and cultures, having
differences going to the root, to be assimilated into
one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan
to learn and profit by."

In the end, Golwalkar's vision of national unity was
not exactly that of Nazi Germany. He was not very
concerned with purity of blood, but rather with
whether Muslim and Christian groups were willing to
"abandon their differences, and completely merge
themselves in the National Race." He was firmly
against the civic equality of any people who retained
their religious and ethnic distinctiveness.

At the time of independence, such ideas of Hindu
supremacy did not prevail. Nehru and Gandhi insisted
not only on equal rights for all citizens, but also on
stringent protections for religious freedom of
expression in the new Constitution. Gandhi always
pointedly included Muslims at the very heart of his
movement. He felt that respect for human equality lay
at the heart of all genuine religions, and provided
Hindus with strong reasons both for repudiating the
caste hierarchy and for seeking relationships of
respect and harmony with Christians and Muslims. A
devout Muslim, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, was one of
his and Nehru's most trusted advisers, and it was to
him that Gandhi turned to accept food when he broke
his fast unto death, a very pointed assault on
sectarian ideas of purity and pollution. Gandhi's
pluralistic ideas, however, were always contested.

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot at point-blank
range by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu
political party Mahasabha and former member of the
RSS, who had long had a close, reverential
relationship with Savarkar. At his sentencing on
November 8, 1949, Godse read a book-length statement
of self-explanation. Although it was not permitted
publication at the time, it gradually leaked out.
Today it is widely available on the Internet, where
Godse is revered as a hero on Hindu-right Web sites.

Godse's self-justification, like the historical
accounts of both Savarkar and Golwalkar, saw
contemporary events against the backdrop of centuries
of "Muslim tyranny" in India, punctuated by the heroic
resistance of Shivaji in the 18th century. Like
Savarkar, Godse described his goal as that of creating
a strong, proud India that could throw off the
centuries of domination. He was appalled by Gandhi's
rejection of the warlike heroes of classical Hindu
epics and his inclusion of Muslims as full equals in
the new nation, and argued that Gandhi exposed Indians
to subordination and humiliation. Nehru believed that
the murder of Gandhi was part of a "fairly widespread
conspiracy" on the part of the Hindu right to seize
power; he saw the situation as analogous to that in
Europe on the eve of the fascist takeovers. And he
believed that the RSS was the power behind this

Fast-forward now to recent years. Although illegal for
a time, the RSS eventually re-emerged and quietly went
to work building a vast social network, consisting
largely of groups for young boyscalled shakha, or
"branches"which, through clever use of games and
songs, indoctrinate the young into the confrontational
and Hindu-supremacist ideology of the organization.
The idea of total obedience and the abnegation of
critical faculties is at the core of the solidaristic
movement. Each day, as members raise the saffron flag
of the warlike hero Shivaji, which the movement
prefers to the tricolor flag of the Indian nation
(with its Buddhist wheel of law reminding citizens of
the emperor Ashoka's devotion to religious
toleration), they recite a pledge that begins: "I take
the oath that I will always protect the purity of
Hindu religion, and the purity of Hindu culture, for
the supreme progress of the Hindu nation." The
organization also makes clever use of modern media: A
nationally televised serial version of the classic
epic Ramayana in the late 1980s fascinated viewers all
over India with its concocted tale of a unitary
Hinduism dedicated to the single-minded worship of the
god Rama. In 1992 Hindu mobs, with the evident
connivance of the modern political wing of the RSS,
the party known as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, or
National People's Party), destroyed a mosque in the
city of Ayodhya that they say covers the remains of a
Hindu temple marking Rama's birthplace.

Politically, the BJP began to gather strength in the
late 1980s, drawing on widespread public
dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the
post-Nehru Congress Party (although it was actually
Congress, under Rajiv Gandhi, that began economic
reforms), and playing, always, the cards of hatred and
fear. It was during its ascendancy, in a coalition
government that prevented it from carrying out all its
goals, that the destruction of the Ayodyha mosque took
place. The violence in Gujarat was the culmination of
a series of increasingly angry pilgrimages to the
Ayodyha site, where the Hindu right has attempted to
construct a Hindu temple over the ruins, but has been
frustrated by the courts. Although the elections of
2004 gave a negative verdict on the BJP government, it
remains the major opposition party and controls
governments in some key states, including Gujarat.

For several years, I have studied the Gujarat
violence, its basis and its aftermath, looking for
implications for how we should view religious violence
around the world. One obvious conclusion is that each
case must be studied on its own merits, with close
attention to specific historical and regional factors.
The idea that all conflicts are explained by a simple
hypothesis of the "clash of civilizations" proves
utterly inadequate in Gujarat, where European ideas
were borrowed to address a perceived humiliation and
to create an ideology that has led to a great deal of
violence against peaceful Muslims. Indeed, the "clash
of civilizations" thesis is the best friend of the
perpetrators because it shields them and their
ideology from scrutiny. Repeatedly in interviews with
leading members of the Hindu right, I was informed
that no doubt, as an American, I was already on their
side, knowing that Muslims cause trouble wherever they

What we see in Gujarat is not a simplistic, comforting
thesis, but something more disturbing: the fact that
in a thriving democracy, many individuals are unable
to live with others who are different, on terms of
mutual respect and amity. They seek total domination
as the only road to security and pride. That is a
phenomenon well known in democracies around the world,
and it has nothing to do with an alleged Muslim
monolith, and, really, very little to do with religion
as such.

This case, then, informs us that we must look within,
asking whether in our own society similar forces are
at work, and, if so, how we may counteract them.
Beyond that general insight, my study of the riots has
suggested four very specific lessons.

The rule of law: One of the most appalling aspects of
the events in Gujarat was the complicity of officers
of the law. The police sat on their hands, the highest
officials of state government egged on the killing,
and the national government gave aid and comfort to
the state government.

However, the institutional and legal structure of the
Indian democracy ultimately proved robust, playing a
key role in securing justice for the victims. The
Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India
played constructive roles in postponing new elections
while Muslims were encouraged to return home, and in
ordering changes of venue in key trials arising out of
the violence. Above all, free national elections were
held in 2004, and those elections, in which the
participation of poor rural voters was decisive,
delivered a strongly negative verdict on the policies
of fear and hate, as well as on the BJP's economic
policies. The current government, headed by Manmohan
Singha Sikh and India's first minority prime
ministerhas announced a firm commitment to end
sectarian violence and has done a great deal to focus
attention on the unequal economic and political
situation of Muslims in the nation, as well as
appointing Muslims to key offices. On balance, then,
the pluralistic democracy envisaged by Gandhi and
Nehru seems to be winning, in part because the framers
of the Indian state bequeathed to India a wise
institutional and constitutional structure, and
traditions of commitment to the key political values
that structure embodies.

It should be mentioned that one of the key aspects of
the founders' commitments, which so far has survived
the Hindu-right challenge, is the general conception
of the nation as a uni-ty around political ideals and
values, particularly the value of equal entitlement,
rather than around ethnic or religious or linguistic
identity. India, like the United States, but unlike
most of the nations of Europe, has rejected such
exclusionary ways of characterizing the nation,
adopting in its Constitution, in public ceremonies,
and in key public symbols the political conception of
its unity. Political structure is not ev-erything, but
it can supply a great deal in times of stress.

The news media and the role of intellectuals: One of
the heartening aspects of the Gujarat events was the
performance of the national news media and of the
community of intellectuals. Both print media and
television kept up unceasing pressure to document and
investigate events. At the same time, many scholars,
lawyers, and leaders of nongovernnmental organizations
converged on Gujarat to take down the testimony of
witnesses, help them file complaints, and prepare a
public record that would stand up in court. The only
reason I felt the need to write about these events
further is that their analyses have, by and large, not
reached the American audience.

We can see here documentation of something long ago
observed by the Indian economist and philosopher
Amartya Sen in the context of famines: the crucial
role of a free press in supporting democratic
institutions. (Sen pointed out that there has not been
a famine in recent times in a nation where a free
press brings essential information to the public; in
China, by contrast, in the late 1950s and early 60s,
famine was allowed to continue unabated, because news
of what was happening in rural areas did not leak
out.) And we can study here what a free press really
means: I would argue that it requires a certain
absence of top-down corporate control and an easy
access to the major news media for intellectual voices
from a wide range of backgrounds.

Education and the importance of critical thinking and
imagination: So far I have mentioned factors that have
helped the Indian democracy survive the threat of
quasi-fascist takeover. But there are warning signs
for the future. The public schools in Gujarat are
famous for their complete lack of critical thinking,
their exclusive emphasis on rote learning and the
uncritical learning of marketable skills, and the
elements of fascist propaganda that easily creep in
when critical thinking is not cultivated. It is well
known that Hitler is presented as a hero in history
textbooks in the state, and nationwide public protest
has not yet led to any change. To some extent, the
rest of the nation is better off: National-level
textbooks have been rewritten to take out the Hindu
right's false ideological view of history and to
substitute a more nuanced view. Nonetheless, the
emphasis on rote learning and on regurgitation of
facts for national examinations is distressing
everywhere, and things are only becoming worse with
the immense pressure to produce economically
productive graduates.

The educational culture of India used to contain
progressive voices, such as that of the great Tagore,
who emphasized that all the skills in the world were
useless, even baneful, if not wielded by a cultivated
imagination and refined critical faculties. Such
voices have now been silenced by the sheer demand for
profitability in the global market. Parents want their
children to learn marketable skills, and their great
pride is the admission of a child to the Indian
Institutes of Technology or the India Institutes of
Management. They have contempt for the humanities and
the arts. I fear for democracy down the road, when it
is run, as it increasingly will be, by docile
engineers in the Gujarat mold, unable to criticize the
propaganda of politicians and unable to imagine the
pain of another human being.

In the United States, by some estimates fully 40
percent of Indian-Americans hail from Gujarat, where a
large proportion belong to the Swaminarayan sect of
Hinduism, distinctive for its emphasis on uncritical
obedience to the utterances of the current leader of
the sect, whose title is Pramukh Swami Maharaj. On a
visit to the elaborate multimillion-dollar
Swaminarayan temple in Bartlett, Ill., I was given a
tour by a young man recently arrived from Gujarat, who
delighted in telling me the simplistic Hindu-right
story of India's history, and who emphatically told me
that whenever Pramukh Swami speaks, one is to regard
it as the direct voice of God and obey without
question. At that point, with a beatific smile, the
young man pointed up to the elaborate marble ceiling
and asked, "Do you know why this ceiling glows the way
it does?" I said I didn't, and I confidently expected
an explanation invoking the spiritual powers of
Pramukh Swami. My guide smiled even more broadly.
"Fiber-optic cables," he told me. "We are the first
ones to put this technology into a temple." There you
see what can easily wreck democracy: a combination of
technological sophistication with utter docility. I
fear that many democracies around the world, including
our own, are going down that road, through a lack of
emphasis on the humanities and arts and an unbalanced
emphasis on profitable skills.

The creation of a liberal public culture: How did
fascism take such hold in India? Hindu traditions
emphasize tolerance and pluralism, and daily life
tends to emphasize the ferment and vigor of
difference, as people from so many ethnic, linguistic,
and regional backgrounds encounter one another. But as
I've noted, the traditions contain a wound, a locus of
vulnerability, in the area of humiliated masculinity.
For centuries, some Hindu males think, they were
subordinated by a sequence of conquerors, and Hindus
have come to identify the sexual playfulness and
sensuousness of their traditions, scorned by the
masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and
subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the
cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way
out of subjection. One reason why the RSS attracts
such a following is the widespread sense of masculine

At the same time, the RSS filled a void, organizing at
the grass-roots level with great discipline and
selflessness. The RSS is not just about fascist
ideology; it also provides needed social services, and
it provides fun, luring boys in with the promise of a
group life that has both more solidarity and more
imagination than the tedious world of government

S o what is needed is some counterforce, which would
supply a public culture of pluralism with equally
efficient grass-roots organization, and a public
culture of masculinity that would contend against the
appeal of the warlike and rapacious masculinity
purveyed by the Hindu right. The "clash within" is not
so much a clash between two groups in a nation that
are different from birth; it is, at bottom, a clash
within each person, in which the ability to live with
others on terms of mutual respect and equality
contends anxiously against the sense of being

Gandhi understood that. He taught his followers that
life's real struggle was a struggle within the self,
against one's own need to dominate and one's fear of
being vulnerable. He deliberately focused attention on
sexuality as an arena in which domination plays itself
out with pernicious effect, and he deliberately
cultivated an androgynous maternal persona. More
significantly still, he showed his followers that
being a "real man" is not a matter of being aggressive
and bashing others; it is a matter of controlling
one's own instincts to aggression and standing up to
provocation with only one's human dignity to defend
oneself. I think that in some respects, he went off
the tracks, in his suggestion that sexual relations
are inherently scenes of domination and in his
recommendation of asceticism as the only route to
nondomination. Nonetheless, he saw the problem at its
root, and he proposed a public culture that, while he
lived, was sufficient to address it.

In a quite different way, Tagore also created a
counterimage of the Indian self, an image that was
more sensuous, more joyful than that of Gandhi, but
equally bent on renouncing the domination that Tagore
saw as inherent in European traditions. In works such
as Nationalism and The Religion of Man, Tagore
described a type of joyful cosmopolitanism,
underwritten by poetry and the arts, that he also made
real in his pioneering progressive school in

After Gandhi, however, that part of the pluralist
program has languished. Though he much loved and
admired both Gandhi and Tagore, Nehru had contempt for
religion, and out of his contempt he neglected the
cultivation of what the radical religions of both men
had supplied: images of who we are as citizens,
symbolic connections to the roots of human
vulnerability and openness, and the creation of a
grass-roots public culture around those symbols. Nehru
was a great institution builder, but in thinking about
the public culture of the new nation, his focus was
always on economic, not cultural, issues. Because he
firmly expected that raising the economic level of the
poor would cause them to lose the need for religion
and, in general, for emotional nourishment, he saw no
need to provide a counterforce to the powerful
emotional propaganda of the Hindu right.

Today's young people in India, therefore, tend to
think of religion, and the creation of symbolic
culture in general, as forces that are in their very
nature fascist and reactionary because that is what
they have seen in their experience. When one tells
them the story of the American civil-rights movement,
and the role of both liberal religion and powerful
pluralist rhetoric in forging an anti-racist civic
culture, they are quite surprised. Meanwhile, the RSS
goes to work unopposed in every state and region,
skillfully plucking the strings of hate and fear. By
now pluralists generally realize that a mistake was
made in leaving grass-roots organization to the right,
but it is very difficult to jump-start a pluralist
movement. The salient exception has been the women's
movement, which has built at the grass roots very

It is comforting for Americans to talk about a clash
of civilizations. That thesis tells us that evil is
outside, distant, other, and that we are perfectly all
right as we are. All we need do is to remain ourselves
and fight the good fight. But the case of Gujarat
shows us that the world is very different. The forces
that assail democracy are internal to many, if not
most, democratic nations, and they are not foreign:
They are our own ideas and voices, meaning the voices
of aggressive European nationalism, refracted back
against the original aggressor with the extra bile of
resentment born of a long experience of domination and

The implication is that all nations, Western and
non-Western, need to examine themselves with the most
fearless exercise of critical capacities, looking for
the roots of domination within and devising effective
institutional and educational countermeasures. At a
deeper level, the case of Gujarat shows us what Gandhi
and Tagore, in their different ways, knew: that the
real root of domination lies deep in the human
personality. It would be so convenient if Americans
were pure and free from flaw, but that fantasy is yet
another form that the resourceful narcissism of the
human personality takes on the way to bad behavior.

Martha C. Nussbaum is a professor in the philosophy
department, law school, divinity school, and the
college at the University of Chicago. Her book The
Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and
India's Future will be published this week by Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 53, Issue 37, Page B6

Workshop on Bahai Faith

The Foundation for Pluralism
Studies in Religious Pluralism & Pluralistic Societies
Workshops Lectures Research
2665 Villa Creek Drive, Suite 206,
Dallas, TX 75234

C: (214) 325-1916 – F: (972) 919-4467 – O: (972) 919-4466
Website: www.FoundationforPluralism.com
Email: MikeGhouse@gmail.com


Dallas, Texas: - Friday, June 1, 2007. The Foundation for Pluralism is committed to promoting understanding between peoples of different religious affiliations. “We believe knowledge leads to understanding and understanding to acceptance and appreciation of another point of view”.

The Foundation for Pluralism has taken the initiative to present all religions in its programs. The goal is to bring people of different faiths together and provide a platform for them to share about their beliefs, their systems and rituals, while expanding the knowledge zone of each group.

We hope each one of us would walk out with an open mind and an open heart towards our fellow beings. It is difficult to shed the prejudices, but once we do, there is genuine freedom (Mukti, Moksha, Salvation, and Nirvana.) in it.

Bahai Faith: Everything you wanted to know about the Bahai faith, you can learn about it in this workshop. As with all faiths, non-Clarity, myths and mis-information are part of Bahai as well.

Pluralism Workshop: - What is Pluralism? What is a pluralistic attitude? Learn its application at work place, home, social situations and other circumstance. It is about co-existence.

When: Sunday, June 24, 2007
Time: 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM (Pluralism workshop) & 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (Bahai Faith)
Where: Crowne Plaza Hotel, 14315 Midway Road, Addison, TX 75001
Directions: Click Map : From LBJ, north on Midway, after Spring Valley on the left.
Confirmation: ConfirmAttendance@gmail.com
Schedule for the year: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Calendar.asp

Mike Ghouse
(214) 325-1916

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Muslims advocate dialogue

Muslim author advocates multi-faith dialogue

Dear Sherry and the editor,

The sentiments expressed by Raheel Raza in the following article are pretty much my expressions as well, and are representative of a large number of Muslims. The silent majority of each group or any group carries the same sentiments but they simply do not express. It is time, we make an effort to enlist these good people to speak up.

I did a talk show radio for 7 years called Wisdom of religion, all the beautiful religions. In the last two years, an hour a month was dedicated to Judaism with with my friend Rabbi Haas, the more we talked, the more we learned mirroring each other. Two years ago we had a week long symposium with 32 different faith traditions participating in it, Rabbi Akiba and I sat together and for a while, we had our piece shortened, as what he said I called Ditto for Islam and vice versa. Indeed a documentary is made and will be shown in the Canadian film festival of non-violent films.

Muslim have done many things with the Jews and other communities in Dallas, among them on record are;

i) http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Images_HolocaustDay/HMD2006_ProgramReport.asp
ii) http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Honored_JewishCommunity_TG2005.asp
iii) http://mikeghouseforamerica.blogspot.com/2007/04/yom-hashoah-remembrance.html
iv) http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/04/yom-hashoah-yom-milaad.html

We have to continue to relate with the humanness in each other. All faith are designed to bring peace and balance to an individual and his/her surroundings. Religion is the reason we have relative hope, without which there would be major chaos.

Indeed, all the conflicts of the world can be traced to greed of individuals but never religion. If New York has a high crime rate, it is the individuals, not the law books of New York nor the religion of the people of New York.

If the moderates prevail in Israel and Palestine, peace is within reach.

Mike Ghouse

Muslim author advocates multi-faith dialogue

Staff Reporter

Raheel Raza, a prominent member of the Canadian Muslim community, addressed supporters of the Canadian Friends of Haifa University (CFHU) at its annual general meeting to promote tolerance, understanding and peace.

The author of Their Jihad… Not My Jihad, Raza is on the board of the Muslim Canadian Congress. She is a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, and the recipient of numerous awards for her interfaith work.

She addressed CFHU board members at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto on April 26, just one day after returning from Los Angeles where she was invited by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to speak at the Museum of Tolerance.

The outspoken advocate for gender equality and multi-faith dialogue promoted the message that we must respect each other’s differences and understand our commonalities.

“We live in a world where hatred seems to be the favoured way of living with each other. I also realize that in our community there are two kinds of people. There are those who would spend a lifetime talking about differences and distances… because for them, to divide and rule is a very easy way to grab people’s attention. And then there are those who would shorten the distance by building bridges of trust and understanding, focusing more on similarities than differences. I wish to be one of those people,” Raza said.

She said that even though she grew up in Pakistan, she had an idea of the hostilities that Jewish communities faced and even knew a little about Jewish history, after having read The Diary of Anne Frank, and seen films with Jewish themes.

But when she moved to Canada, she, too, faced hostility from the Muslim community for sympathizing with Jews.

“What my fellow Muslims don’t understand is that in my journey to discover [other religious communities], all I am doing is trying to follow the word of God,” she said.

“The more I interact with others, the more I become rooted in my faith. Those who think I am going outside of my faith by befriending people who are not Muslims, they don’t understand that this is what roots me in my faith, when I learn more about you.”

She quoted a line from the Qur’an that she discovered is very similar to a line in the Talmud that says “humanity is one community.”

She said that after having read passages from the Talmud (in English), she realized how many similarities there are between the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

“As I was reading, I thought to myself, every single Muslim I know needs to come to a synagogue and hear what is being said to understand that the message is the same, that we are reaching out to the same God. But through the centuries, you know and I know that this message and others like it have been sidelined and Islam has been subjected to anti-pluralistic, exclusivist interpretation in order to advance both political and religious subversive agendas.”

Raza said she also identifies with Israel’s struggle to defend itself against communities that call for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“Pakistan is the only other country in the world that was created on the basis of religion, and if someone, like neighbouring India, or anyone else said that they don’t recognize them, I’m sure the world opinion would be very much against it,” she said.

“My firm belief is that Israel needs to be recognized and it has a right to exist just as much as my own native land of Pakistan does,” she said, adding that most Pakistanis and Muslims would disagree with her.

There can be no solution to the “Palestinian crisis” until Israel has a partner that recognizes its sovereignty, she said.

Raza also doesn’t shy away from challenging people who hold the view that Jews heavily influence foreign policy.

Muslims around the world need to abandon a popular, ignorant belief that whatever is happening in the world is a Jewish conspiracy, she said.

Just two days earlier in Los Angeles, Raza told the gathering that she hopped in an Iranian man’s cab to go shopping. She began to make conversation with her driver and asked him how he liked living in the United States.

“He said, ‘Well, you know, there’s [President] George Bush and those Jews.’ Maybe two years ago I would have changed the subject and talked about something else… [but] I asked him, ‘When you say “those Jews” what do you mean?’ And he said, ‘You know, those people run the country.’”

She said she lectured the cab driver for 20 minutes. He was so taken aback, and he asked her if she was a Muslim.

“I am a practising Muslim,” she told him. “This is what my faith and your faith, if you happen to be Muslim, tells you, that you do not judge people. I don’t know if it made a difference to him, but it made a difference to me.”

She said that it is important for people of all faiths to understand that unity does not mean uniformity.

“If we want peace and if we want to live together in harmony, we have to move beyond our differences. We have to have dialogue, we have to build these bridges, we have to have communication.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Atheism du Jour

Atheism du Jour
2007-03-30, By Rabbi David Wolpe
Atheism has become chic. In itself, this might be a helpful thing, after all faith, like every other system, strengthens itself by intelligent challenge. But too much of the contemporary attack on religion is just that -- an attack fueled by grievance and not by careful consideration.

Instead of a grappling with faith, recent books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and to a lesser extent by Daniel Dennett, are two-fisted, clumsy attacks. The recent Los Angeles Times editorial by Harris, "God's Dupes," is illustrative. Its tone is incredulity, and its fuel is venom. Contending with the question of God and of faith more successfully than Harris manages to do requires unraveling fundamental misconceptions.

Faith Is Opposed to Reason

To say that faith is against reason, "self-deception, set to music," is like saying that green is against length -- it is a category mistake. Faith is not arrived at the way you arrive at a vaccine.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman writes "Many scientists do believe in both science and God, the God of revelation, in a perfectly consistent way" and more than 40 percent of people who hold doctorates in science state that they attend houses of worship weekly, there is something a bit smug about Harris' sweeping claims that faith is unreasonable or unscientific.

All of us cherish certain unprovable beliefs. Life is worthwhile. Kindness is to be promoted. Hatred is bad.

Are they self-deceptions? No -- they are fundamental affirmations that permit us to live meaningful lives

I cannot "prove" God, nor can I imagine in what such a proof would consist. Yet belief is no less central to my life than the conviction that life is worth cherishing and promoting. Do we then retort, "Aha, he favors life against reason!" Not unless one wishes to argue like Harris.

Religion Causes War

The most genocidal regimes in human history have been those that were explicitly atheistic: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia and Mao's China. We might more persuasively argue that the lack of religion brings destruction.

People believe things, and people join groups. Both of those eminently human tendencies will promote division. From soccer fans to partisans of nationalism, there are those who are able to keep their allegiances in perspective, and those who run roughshod over the rights of others.

Something is usually added to the brew before religion becomes seriously divisive. Most of the time, it is a dispute over land or political power that provides the incendiary spark.

The slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda was not a product of religious division but ethnic strife. The greatest convulsion in our nation's history, the Civil War, had partisans of the same faith on both sides. The division was geographical and ideological. Shall we then lobby to eliminate geography?

Religion is part of the fabric of history and community. To unravel it and isolate it as the cause of human passions and cruelty is foolish. Moreover, in losing religion, we lose more than its antagonists may have considered.

Religion is the source of some of the greatest art, music and literature in the world. In rejecting religion, we are also rejecting the largest share of the patrimony of our cultural history.

What does one make, moreover, of the charitable works of religion? Why do polls consistently show that religious people are more likely to give to charities, to do volunteer work, to feed the hungry, house the homeless, provide succor to the lonely and lost?

The ideals that Harris says we could easily arrive at without religion (now that religion has already given them to us) are not valuable as ideals simply lying on a page. They have to be realized in people's lives. There is no vehicle for the realization of ideals that has the power of faith.

To write, as he does, "compassion is deeper than religion," is to ignore the historic role religion has played in promoting compassion. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)" is the principle taught us in the Torah by the God whom Harris, in accents as adolescent as they are inaccurate, calls a "jealous, genocidal, priggish and self-contradictory tyrant."

Moderates Provide "Cover" for Radicals

This is the most disingenuous and dangerous claim of all. We can be sure that there is no argument less likely to touch radicals than the sneering, dismissive denials of Harris, Dennett and Dawkins. If they wish to change religion, hating it is a poor strategy. In what argument does suggesting the weak mindedness of your opponent move them to reconsider their views?

Moderates in any faith are the only ones with a chance of changing those who have been radicalized, precisely because we understand the tradition and speak the language. Who is going to succeed in reinterpreting Scripture -- a secularist or a believer with a gentle view?

As someone whom Harris would classify as a "moderate," and therefore dangerous, I think the depth of my conviction is the best chance we have to appeal to those who see the tradition in more radical ways. I engage in dialogue with Jews, Christians and Muslims who also want to be true to the sources of their faith that counsel embrace of each other -- not agreement, but embrace. These people are the ones working to create faiths that promote coexistence, kindness and all the ideals that sprang, despite what some may think, from the very heart of religious traditions.

The most literal or extreme reading of a tradition is not more "true." When science discovers more about the world, we call it progress. Why then, when people of faith do the same, would Harris see it as a betrayal or watering down of faith? Intellectual growth is not a "cover" or a betrayal of faith. Rather it is an affirmation of the spiritual, as well as the intellectual potential of human beings.

Fanaticism is not limited to faith. Fanaticism of any variety is an unwillingness to lend one's opponent dignity, worthiness and seriousness.

Atheism that seeks truth invites dialogue; fire and brimstone atheism does not.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

Accumulating Wounds

Three years ago, we had three fascists, unilateralists who ruled in three different nations, facts did not matter to them, they manufactured them so suit their destructive dreams; they were not nation builders but pure cranky destroyers. Thanks God we are left with one, and that the time for that one is running out too.

God bless America

Mike Ghouse

Muslims and West: Accumulating Wounds
Tarik Jan

The tragic moments in history have their own ineluctable fate, for in the creation of those moments there are years of self-satisfied attitudes that smothers a people’s ability to perceive threats, parochial concerns that eventually conditions their psyche, and disrespect for the overarching principle that holds the social components together in an activating equation of consolidation and spread.

In the year 1258, the moment of reckoning for the Muslims arrived when the Mongols pointed their archery at Baghdad. They accused the caliph al-Mu‘tasim of giving refuge to “rebels” and not honoring his pledge to assist against the Assassins (Hashishayn).

As penalty, Helagu Khan demanded Caliph’s surrender to the Mongols and the complete demilitarization of Baghdad. The rest perhaps is known: Helagu was not stopped by the high-scale civilization that Baghdad had lived and symbolized for centuries. And the Muslims great economic and social indicators, undoubtedly the best in the world, did not discourage the Mongols to tear them apart from limb to limb. 800,000 people paid the price for their neglect to the principles of growth and decay or the phenomenon of rise and fall, forgetting that what propels a people to rise, if not respected and nourished, can sling them towards the downfall as well.

History is brutal in its description of what happened to China at the hands of the Imperial Powers. In early 19th century, Britain along with France and the United States wanted to make money by inveigling the Chinese people to buy opium, which the Chinese rightfully resisted for it had begun taking a heavy toll of their health and economy. But showing the same imperial strain of hardheaded rapacity and unprincipled urge to dominate and humiliate others, Western syndicate pushed for dumping opium upon the Chinese.

To exhaust diplomatic channels, Commissioner Lin wrote a letter to Queen Victoria in 1839 pleading for a stop to the devastating opium trade. Lin’s letter, among others, identified the illegalities committed by Her Majesty’s government “who by means of introducing opium by stealth have seduced our Chinese people, and caused every province of the land to overflow with that poison.” Pointing towards the West lust for money by any means, the letter accused them of not caring about “injuring others.”

Injuring others for profit, said Commissioner Lin, is hated by Providence as well as humankind. But the West turned down the rational discourse, norms of international law and morality. They pushed on China, punishing it for its resolve to assert its sovereignty, destroyed its trade, and as booty surrendered Hong Kong to them.

Today in the 21st century the West is making similar demands on the Muslim world. The opium trade of the early 19th century has been replaced by the drug-induced culture of the West that it insists on grafting on the Muslim people. Tony Blair had even the guts to say that for the West the battleground is not security but values. Thus for the Muslims, the U.S., despite its humanistic and civilizational overtones, has assumed the role of the modern-day Mongols. Afghanistan was asked to hand over the U.S. “rebels” like Osama bin Laden and others or get ready for radioactive shells and daisy cutters that blew up humans and mountains besides the incalculable emotional impact of a 2,000 lb cluster bomb on the living within a square mile.

In Iraq the body count suggest a harrowing tale of humans’ brutality to humans. From March 2003 to June 2006 about 654, 965 Iraqis, according to a MIT-based study, have been killed, which is said to be 2.5 % of the Iraqi population as compared to World War II figures of the United Kingdom 0.94 % and the United States 0.32 %. This is certainly high in terms of casualties and human suffering. More than 1 million children’s lives are reported to be “damaged” emotionally and psychologically. Almost 127,000 infants are being whisked away by death every year. Recent estimates are talking about 500,000 infant deaths so far.

One may question the size of these figures as “preposterously high” or not credible as the Bush administration would like to see them. But much to the war-mongers’ chagrin, MIT Center for International Studies described the study methodology and its results as the “only scientific account of the fatalities in the Iraq war.” What boosted the study in its ranking was, however, the Iraqi government’s hasty move to block the avenues of data information that could help obtain an accurate body count.

Iraq’s proud past, preserved in its well-maintained museums, has lost its fascinating looks and is no more vocal in telling the wonderful story of its civilization to visitors around the world. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has opened up the land and its resources to loot and plunder: its oil wealth is being stolen under the supposedly sharp eyes of the U.S. naval troops making it all the more plausible that the beneficiary of the crime is none but the U.S. An estimate speaks of about 200,000 to 500,000 barrels a day being stolen, which at the current price of $60 a barrel comes to about 120 million to $300 million a day, a huge amount by any measure.

Like the Mongols who called for demilitarizing Baghdad, the U.S. is continually intimidating Iran to give up its hard-won nuclear technology and Pakistan is being gradually pushed into the eye of the storm with unending allegations of harboring and supporting the Taliban. Dr. A.Q. Khan’s case is ceaselessly being stirred and none seems to be willing to recap it despite Pakistan’s genuine effort to make a thorough probe of his alleged proliferation of nuclear knowledge.

In the heat of its pursuit for its global agenda, the U.S. perhaps forgets that times have changed. Gone are the days when the superpowers kept war away from their seashores and inflicted harm on the poor and oppressed of the world through their aircraft carriers. Undoubtedly the invention of aircraft carriers was ingenious: it extended the landmass of the invading country far away from its seashores, constantly floating and threateningly poised to strike terror against the enemy while keeping their own mainland safe.

It does not add to our civilizational comfort that September 11 has exposed the vulnerability of the nation state no matter how far from the harm’s way and strong it may be. In the same vein, it can be said that in the coming days, the smaller nations will not be easily run over or cowed down by the bigger powers. Technology has no more the enviable status of an esoteric knowledge. Nor is it possible to freeze human mind to think and plan for defence and survival in the jungle named civilization.

It will serve peace well if Western Nations set aside their imperial hubris and instead of fighting and taming others allow them space to live in the light of their genius. For as Peter Singer has rightly said: “The 9-11 War will not be won through any territorial conquest or individual’s captive. It will only end in the realm of perceptions.”

Friday, May 4, 2007

Balancing the Prophet

I am pleased to share the following article " Balancing the prophet " by Karen Armstrong.

The religions of the world are in place to bring peace to man and his environment.

It is the politics of humans that does wrong things, and not thier religion. The European history in relation to Islam was based on fabrications and deliberate mis-translations of Qur'aan. http://www.theghouseteam.com/mg/WMC_Files/Quran_Translations_Issues_031107.pps . They were paid to write it by their kings, just so they can rouse the public against the created enemy, and thus turn the public against them to protect their kingdoms.

The Europeans were not that stupid, but when religion was used, they fell for it and went on the crusades bandwagon to kill their fabricated enemy, while the kings got their tails saved, the poor suckers (the public) martyred themselves believing that it was for their lord, they were dying.

The neo-con gang thrives on falsehood as they get their excitment in war mongering, death and destruction. I don't know if a single neo-con has made attempts to build bridges, they are just bent on annihilating or subjugating others. Their vocabulary is devoid of harmony, peace and co-existence.

Mike Ghouse

Balancing the Prophet
By Karen Armstrong
Financial Times: Published: April 27 2007 15:43 Last updated: April 27 2007 15:43

Ever since the Crusades, people in the west have seen the prophet Muhammad as a sinister figure. During the 12th century, Christians were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims, even though Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. The scholar monks of Europe stigmatised Muhammad as a cruel warlord who established the false religion of Islam by the sword. They also, with ill-concealed envy, berated him as a lecher and sexual pervert at a time when the popes were attempting to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy. Our Islamophobia became entwined with our chronic anti-Semitism; Jews and Muslims, the victims of the crusaders, became the shadow self of Europe, the enemies of decent civilisation and the opposite of ”us”.

Our suspicion of Islam is alive and well. Indeed, understandably perhaps, it has hardened as a result of terrorist atrocities apparently committed in its name. Yet despite the religious rhetoric, these terrorists are motivated by politics rather than religion. Like ”fundamentalists” in other traditions, their ideology is deliberately and defiantly unorthodox. Until the 1950s, no major Muslim thinker had made holy war a central pillar of Islam. The Muslim ideologues Abu ala Mawdudi (1903-79) and Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), among the first to do so, knew they were proposing a controversial innovation. They believed it was justified by the current political emergency.

The criminal activities of terrorists have given the old western prejudice a new lease of life. People often seem eager to believe the worst about Muhammad, are reluctant to put his life in its historical perspective and assume the Jewish and Christian traditions lack the flaws they attribute to Islam. This entrenched hostility informs Robert Spencer's misnamed biography The Truth about Muhammad, subtitled Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion.

Spencer has studied Islam for 20 years, largely, it seems, to prove that it is an evil, inherently violent religion. He is a hero of the American right and author of the US bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Like any book written in hatred, his new work is a depressing read. Spencer makes no attempt to explain the historical, political, economic and spiritual circumstances of 7th-century Arabia, without which it is impossible to understand the complexities of Muhammad's life. Consequently he makes basic and bad mistakes of fact. Even more damaging, he deliberately manipulates the evidence.

The traditions of any religion are multifarious. It is easy, therefore, to quote so selectively that the main thrust of the faith is distorted. But Spencer is not interested in balance. He picks out only those aspects of Islamic tradition that support his thesis. For example, he cites only passages from the Koran that are hostile to Jews and Christians and does not mention the numerous verses that insist on the continuity of Islam with the People of the Book: ”Say to them: We believe what you believe; your God and our God is one.”

Islam has a far better record than either Christianity or Judaism of appreciating other faiths. In Muslim Spain, relations between the three religions of Abraham were uniquely harmonious in medieval Europe. The Christian Byzantines had forbidden Jews from residing in Jerusalem, but when Caliph Umar conquered the city in AD638, he invited them to return and was hailed as the precursor of the Messiah. Spencer doesn't refer to this. Jewish-Muslim relations certainly have declined as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but this departs from centuries of peaceful and often positive co-existence. When discussing Muhammad's war with Mecca, Spencer never cites the Koran's condemnation of all warfare as an ”awesome evil”, its prohibition of aggression or its insistence that only self-defence justifies armed conflict. He ignores the Koranic emphasis on the primacy of forgiveness and peaceful negotiation: the second the enemy asks for peace, Muslims must lay down their arms and accept any terms offered, however disadvantageous. There is no mention of Muhammad's non-violent campaign that ended the conflict.

People would be offended by an account of Judaism that dwelled exclusively on Joshua's massacres and never mentioned Rabbi Hillel's Golden Rule, or a description of Christianity based on the bellicose Book of Revelation that failed to cite the Sermon on the Mount. But the widespread ignorance about Islam in the west makes many vulnerable to Spencer's polemic; he is telling them what they are predisposed to hear. His book is a gift to extremists who can use it to ”prove” to those Muslims who have been alienated by events in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq that the west is incurably hostile to their faith.

Eliot Weinberger is a poet whose interest in Islam began at the time of the first Gulf war. His slim volume, Muhammad, is also a selective anthology about the Prophet. His avowed aim is to ”give a small sense of the awe surrounding this historical and sacred figure, at a time of the demonisation of the Muslim world in much of the media”. Many of the passages he quotes are indeed mystical and beautiful, but others are likely to confirm some readers in their prejudice. Without knowing their provenance, how can we respond to such statements as ”He said that he who plays chess is like one who has dyed his hand in the blood of a pig” or ”Filling the stomach with pus is better than stuffing the brain with poetry”?

It is difficult to see how selecting only these dubious traditions as examples could advance mutual understanding. The second section of this anthology is devoted to anecdotes about Muhammad's wives that smack of prurient gossip. Western readers need historical perspective to understand the significance of the Prophet's domestic arrangements, his respect for his wives, and the free and forthright way in which they approached him. Equally eccentric are the stories cited by Weinberger to describe miracles attributed to the Prophet: the Koran makes it clear that Muhammad did not perform miracles and insists that he was an ordinary human being, with no divine powers.

It is, therefore, a relief to turn to Barnaby Rogerson's more balanced and nuanced account of early Muslim history in The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. Rogerson is a travel writer by trade; his explanation of the Sunni/Shia divide is theologically simplistic, but his account of the rashidun, the first four ”rightly guided” caliphs who succeeded the Prophet, is historically sound, accessible and clears up many western misconceptions about this crucial period.

Rogerson makes it clear, for example, that the wars of conquest and the establishment of the Islamic empire after Muhammad's death were not inspired by religious ideology but by pragmatic politics. The idea that Islam should conquer the world was alien to the Koran and there was no attempt to convert Jews or Christians. Islam was for the Arabs, the sons of Ishmael, as Judaism was for the descendants of Isaac and Christianity for the followers of Jesus.

Rogerson also shows that Muslim tradition is multi-layered and many-faceted. The early historians regularly gave two or three variant accounts of an incident in the life of the Prophet; readers were expected to make up their own minds.

Similarly, there are at least four contrasting and sometimes conflicting versions of the Exodus story in the Hebrew Bible, and in the New Testament the four evangelists interpret the life of Jesus quite differently. To choose one tradition and ignore the rest - as Weinberger and Spencer do - is distorting.

Professor Tariq Ramadan has studied Islam at the University of Geneva and al-Azhar University in Cairo and is currently senior research fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford. The Messenger is easily the most scholarly and knowledgeable of these four biographies of Muhammad, but it is also practical and relevant, drawing lessons from the Prophet's life that are crucial for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ramadan makes it clear, for example, that Muhammad did not shun non-Muslims as ”unbelievers” but from the beginning co-operated with them in the pursuit of the common good. Islam was not a closed system at variance with other traditions. Muhammad insisted that relations between the different groups must be egalitarian. Even warfare must not obviate the primary duty of justice and respect.

When the Muslims were forced to leave Mecca because they were persecuted by the Meccan establishment, Ramadan shows, they had to adapt to the alien customs of their new home in Medina, where, for example, women enjoyed more freedom than in Mecca. The hijrah (”migration”) was a test of intelligence; the emigrants had to recognise that some of their customs were cultural rather than Islamic, and had to learn foreign practices.

Ramadan also makes it clear that, in the Koran, jihad was not synonymous with ”holy war”. The verb jihada should rather be translated: ”making an effort”. The first time the word is used in the Koran, it signified a ”resistance to oppression” (25:26) that was intellectual and spiritual rather than militant. Muslims were required to oppose the lies and terror of those who were motivated solely by self-interest; they had to be patient and enduring. Only after the hijrah, when they encountered the enmity of Mecca, did the word jihad take connotations of self-defence and armed resistance in the face of military aggression. Even so, in mainstream Muslim tradition, the greatest jihad was not warfare but reform of one's own society and heart; as Muhammad explained to one of his companions, the true jihad was an inner struggle against egotism.

The Koran teaches that, while warfare must be avoided whenever possible, it is sometimes necessary to resist humanity's natural propensity to expansionism and oppression, which all too often seeks to obliterate the diversity and religious pluralism that is God's will. If they do wage war, Muslims must behave ethically. ”Do not kill women, children and old people,” Abu Bakr, the first caliph, commanded his troops. ”Do not commit treacherous actions. Do not burn houses and cornfields.” Muslims must be especially careful not to destroy monasteries where Christian monks served God in prayer.

Ramadan could have devoted more time to such contentious issues as the veiling of women, polygamy and Muhammad's treatment of some (though by no means all) of the Jewish tribes of Medina. But his account restores the balance that is so often lacking in western narratives. Muhammad was not a belligerent warrior. Ramadan shows that he constantly emphasised the importance of ”gentleness” (ar-rafiq), ”tolerance” (al-ana) and clemency (al-hilm).

It will be interesting to see how The Messenger is received. Ramadan is clearly addressing issues that inspire some Muslims to distort their religion. Western people often complain that they never hear from ”moderate” Muslims, but when such Muslims do speak out they are frequently dismissed as apologists and hagiographers. Until we all learn to approach one another with generosity and respect, we cannot hope for peace.

Karen Armstrong is the author of ”Muhammad: Prophet For Our Time”

Violations towards Children

Human Rights Violations towards Children
Protest against inhumane treatment of children and families

Dr. Asma Salam, we salute you for standing up for the humans rights, in this particular case the ICE Violations. It is a good step, compassion, justice for human kind is our obligation, and we Muslims have to do our part in contributing towards peace and justice, and we are proud of you for taking this step.

A note from Dr. Salam is followed by a note from CAIR Dallas.

Mike Ghouse

On Wednesday May 2nd, 2007 my 5 week protest against inhumane treatment of children and families at Immigration Detention Centers operated by "ICE" Immigration Custom Enforment agency will end, however my efforts to release the pain and suffering of these children, women and men will not stop until we put an end to the violations of human rights in our state of "Texas" and in our homeland "United States of America"

Our religious, spiritual and moral obligations reminds us that we do not have to give birth to feel the pain and sufferings of innocent children and we do not have to be related by blood or marriage to support and help people in misery. The most beautiful relation and the strongest bond we share is the bond of humanity among all of us as we all are children of Adam and Abraham regardless of our color, cast and creed. It is an imperative as human for all of us to defend the human rights and to melt "ICE" and to let our government know that we will not accept this inhumane treatment of children, women and men in our country.

I would like to share these verses by Sheikh Saadi from his book Gulistan (The Rose Garden), written in his honor on the entrance to the Hall of Nations in New York.

Of one Essence is the human race,
Thusly has Creation put the Base;
One Limb impacted is sufficient,
For all Others to feel the Mace.
Sheikh Saadi

Thank you all for your direct and indirect support. May God help us all in uniting and bringing peace and justice to these children and families who have already suffered enough in these immigration detention centers as we all know that none of them deserve a moment to be in this inhumane and unjust environment.

Please log on to http://texascivilrightsreview.org to learn more about this issue, and feel free to contact me at 817-707-6411 or at asmasalam@sbcglobal.net if you have any question or concern regarding this issue.

Thank you and God bless you.
This is one of the most popular prayers around the globe by St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

Asma Salam MD
P.O.Box # 122083
Arlington, TX 76012

Dying for religion or Politics?

Dying for religion or Politics?
Mike Ghouse, May 4, 2007

Jeff Weiss, editor of the Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News distills his unease into a question, "Should I care more about evil done in the name of God vs. evil done for power or politics or any of the other myriad reasons? And if so, why?"

After a thoughtful comment, "The murder of those three Christians in Turkey last month was certainly horrible. (Bruce blogged it shortly after it happened, btw.) But how many innocents died violently in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur yesterday whose stories will never appear in the DMN? More than three, I'll bet. When I see the news releases about persecuted individual Christians from elsewhere in the world, I sigh. Not because I don't feel the pain. But because there's so much pain out there. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Younameits."

Indeed, it is a question we need to address squarely. On my part, I have eased and distilled my thoughts in to this frame of response. I am making a connection but not connected yet, you might have that missing phrase or a response that may answer the above question to a blissful, wholesome answer.

We should care about every life and as members of the society, each one of us has to strive for a balanced society without pointing fingers at anyone but ourselves. . It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. We have an obligation to maintain an equilibrium in the society for every one’s good including my own.

Often, I think of the example my dad gave me about serving humankind. He said, if you were to walk down the street in your neighborhood and see a car coming, and you also see a child is crawling into the middle of the road; your instant reaction is to dive and pull that child out of the road. Just as the man in New York subway dived to save the man who fell on the rail road tract.

This is the most crucial moment that we can connect with the humanity, I believe, inherently we are good people and we react to situations like the subway or pulling the child out of harm's way in genuine humanness. Now, if we introduce the element of deliberations, and for a moment think about the race, religion, ethnicity of that person we saved, we may get corrupted and find excuses to act differently.

In the incidents above, it was human, and we honored the life given by God to all. In the case of Turkey situation, we added the element of politics that the life of those three Christians did not mean much to them, and did the wrong thing by killing them. This wrong did not stem from religion, as all religions including the one of the killers, prohibit killing, “Killing one human is like killing the whole humanity". It appeared to be done in the name of religion, it really was not, it was the politics of one versus the other.

We have a choice; to stop the situation from further deteriorating or to conflagrate the situation by blaming the ‘innocent party’ religion. Ideally most of us want to go with the first option, but we veer towards action and consciously or politically act out by falling into the evil pit, that further pits one against the other.

The Turkey incident may be branded with a religious flag, but it really is about being human. If we take the human approach, we may find an easing of tensions and see some solutions on the horizon.

Let’s not call it a Muslim V Christian conflict, as the chameleon will express the color of politics and creates a wedge, deepens the chasm and creates more tension, and do the opposite of what we desire.

We need to get to know each other as humans, it is a long process, and we have to be patient and work towards it. Peace on earth is a natural desire of humans wanting to live safely and fully. We fail ourselves and God (or the natural order for our atheist friends) with our politics and impatience.

Mike Ghouse

Does dying for religion's sake merit extra attention?
06:20 PM CDT on Thursday, May 3, 2007
Primus: I'll refocus some ruminations from the blog this week. Sam Hodges had posted:

"Denny Burk, assistant professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, messaged me. He's concerned that few people seem to know that three Christians were killed in Turkey last month, and that life as a Christian there seems to be getting increasingly perilous."
To which I posted:

"The murder of those three Christians in Turkey last month was certainly horrible. (Bruce blogged it shortly after it happened, btw.) But how many innocents died violently in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur yesterday whose stories will never appear in the DMN? More than three, I'll bet. When I see the news releases about persecuted individual Christians from elsewhere in the world, I sigh. Not because I don't feel the pain. But because there's so much pain out there. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Younameits."

Which only got partway to what was bothering me. In an exchange with an actual reader (thanks Tammy!), I was able to distill my unease into a question:
"Should I care more about evil done in the name of God vs. evil done for power or politics or any of the other myriad reasons? And if so, why?"

Let me be really clear about what I'm asking. I am appalled at the murder of the three Christians in Turkey. And I understand that people tend to feel the most pain when one of their own is injured. But as a matter of principle, how should I – should anyone – react when we get an advocacy note about a particular killing? Should religious context matter? And if so, how?

Clearly Professor Burk (and others who are passing along links to this story. I'm getting them, too.) believes there is something notable about these particular deaths. Something that we should pay special attention to. Even beyond other deaths and sufferings in the world.

Let me throw this question out to the floor, here. Not as a contest. This is too serious to trivialize. But if I get good answers, I'll post them to the blog and alert you in the Peek. Send your thoughts to me at jweiss@dallasnews.com.