Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Indian Arms Purchases Tops 2004 Buyers

According to this article at Rediff.com, for 2004 India was "the largest buyer from the United States," beating China, which had been the largest arms buyer from the US for the last four years. Also of note in the article is that Russia is the number 2 arms-dealer in the world, and mainly supplies India and China. Looks like India, China, and probably Pakistan are saving up for a big "party."

Also of note is the arms-race between Pakistan and India. In negotiating the purchase of 75 F-16s from the US, Jehangir Karamat (the Pakistani ambassador to the US) said:
'Pakistan does not want any upset in the balance of power between the two states, "as then, Pakistan has to inevitably take steps to redress that (an imbalance).'
However, it should be expected that the bulk of Pakistani military spending will be in developing their nuclear arsenal and strategic weapons as India has always had a superiority in conventional military strength. The United States followed a similar policy in containing the erstwhile Soviet Union, which also had a significant numeric superiority in conventional military force.

Then there is this link to an article titled "Why is the US indulging Pakistan?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Ontological Explanation for Jihad

Over at The Belmont Club, Wretchard reports on Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism, which affords a critique of the modern Left's political alliance with radical Islam. As reported by Wretchard, Berman asserts that the Left should have concluded that radical Islam must be opposed because it stands against everything Western liberals have fought for. Yet quite the opposite happened, and Berman tries to answer why. According to Berman, liberals considered avoiding war to be the unquestionable moral principle that all other moral principles bowed down to: "Blum and his supporters regarded Hitler and the Nazis with horror ... But mostly they remembered the First World War ... They grew thoughtful, therefore. They did not wish to reduce Germany in all its Teutonic complexity to black-and-white terms of good and evil." In short, "people dying" was considered an intrinsically bad thing; preventing it therefore justified any cost or compromise in values.

But the problem with holding up the preservation of life as the ultimate moral principle brings into question whose life? There will always be circumstances where one set of lives have to be valued more than another set, and in war this almost always involves large sets of lives. The follow-up question to whose lives are worth preserving over others is this: is there anything in the world that is worth sacrificing one or more lives for, or every last life for? When the preservation of life itself is made the pinnacle of morality, then the answer is no. And that perhaps explains why the Left seems consistently inclined to compromise with the worst of tyrants.

But this is a phenomenal explanation for the Left's seemingly perpetual attraction to tyrants, because all rational explanations are ultimately founded on fundamental assumptions that can never be validated by logic. Logic is a system for manipulating symbols, ideas. Every known system of logic must begin with irreducible axioms. No explanation for jihad or the global Left's genuflexion toward it can therefore be complete without describing their ontologies. In other words, the question of what motivates jihadis and the Left begins with understanding what they think themselves to be. All questions of value and morality begin not with rationality but with a fundamental conception of the self. In deliberating the values of the Marxists, one 20th century thinker ruminated thusly:
The . . . doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight. Thus it denies the value of personality in man, contests the significance of nationality and . . . thereby withdraws from humanity the premise of its existence and its culture. As a foundation of the universe, this doctrine would bring about the end of any order intellectually conceivable to man. And as, in this greatest of all recognizable organisms, the result of an application of such a law could only be chaos, on earth it could only be destruction for the inhabitants of this planet.
Into the 21st century, sounds like things haven't changed so much after all, have they? His analysis of the faults in Marxism begin with an understanding of the self--nature, personality, nationality, and culture. And this analysis is perhaps spot on, because Marxists logically arrive at the conclusion that man is no more significant than his own body--personally or collectively within the context of society. From this conception of the self can be derived an abstract rationalization against the bourgeosie, the capitalists, and anyone else who retains extraordinary wealth and influence. Communism's perpetual enmity with the more privileged classes is thus a rationalism that is rooted in a fundamental, irreducible conception of the self.

In critiquing Marxism, the thinker also betrays the fundamentally irreducible self-conception upon which his own rationalizations are founded. Like the Communists, he also believes himself to be a thing of Nature, except his view of nature was perhaps more reverential than those of the Communists, who also tend to be humanistic. Who is this critic of Marxist doctrine? The first sentence rendered in full should make clearer the author and the role of self-conceptions in the matter of rational exegeses: "The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature. . ." The critic was Hitler.

Hitler's "final solution" too was derived from his fundamental self-conception: (emphasis added)
I took all the Social Democratic pamphlets I could lay hands on and sought the names of their authors: Jews. I noted the names of the leaders; by far the greatest part were likewise members of the 'chosen people,' whether they were representatives in the Reichsrat or trade-union secretaries, the heads of organizations or street agitators. It was always the same gruesome picture. The names of the Austerlitzes, Davids, Adlers, Ellenbogens, etc., will remain forever graven in my memory. One thing had grown dear to me: the party with whose petty representatives I had been carrying on the most violent struggle for months was, as to leadership, almost exclusively in the hands of a foreign people; for, to my deep and joyful satisfaction, I had at last come to the conclusion that the Jew was no German. (Mein Kampf, chapter 2)
If Hitler had felt the Jews were not hostile nor hold-outs against that which he considered most dear--idealized, nationalistic German culture--then perhaps the world would not have seen "the final solution." But that was not to be. Hitler's "final solution" was rational because, to him and his followers, the rationalizations followed from an unquestionable, irreducible conception of the self.

Islamic Jihad is also based on a fundamental conception of the self which, like Marxism and Facism, is also materialistic. Dying for the sake of carnal rewards, whether earthly, or heavenly, or for the preservation of the ummah, is still a conception of the self rooted in the body. For Muslims too, that thing about them which is fundamentally irreducible and not subject to rationalization provides their most basic answer to the questions "what am I?", "what are we?", and by extension "what are you?" Those who fundamentally differ from them on this level tend to be regarded as enemies, even if the so-called enemies mean Islamists no harm. It is the otherness that is threatening, because by association, becoming "like" the other is something is something akin to suicide. If one's inner-most self is destroyed, goes missing, or becomes something else, what then is the use of everything else? For Islam to thus protect itself, the "other" must be dehumanized--made fit for derision, subjugation, exploitation, and termination. Justification for jihad, like Hitler's justification for the Final Solution, is rational, not irrational, once the axioms inherent in radical Islamic are accepted as the starting point for all rationalizations.

The West and allied civilizations like the Orthodox and Hindu civlizations are inadvertently in search of a fundamental, irreducible conception of themselves, lest the modern Left define it for them. To a significant extent, all three of these civilizations, and others not mentioned here, have been significantly affected by empiricism and liberal ideologies which have at their root a conception of the self--a conception demonstrated by the modern Left as self-defeating. So in one sense the greater part of the battle against radical Islam is really a set of intracivilizational, ideological battles to define the reigning ontologies for each of these civilizations.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of these battles, to see what type of conception of the self each civilization arrives at and whether or not these conceptions can stand up to the ummah. It is our ontological understanding of the self, whether visceral, religious, cultural, or even intellectual, that forms the starting point from which all rationalizations, values, and ethics descend. This ontological understanding need not be religious, either. It can be cultural, national, class-based, race-based, etc. One thing the Belmont Club article should make clear is that the ontological conception at the heart of the modern Left cannot stand up to radical Islam. If the Left wins, the jihadis win with them.

The current challenge to evolutionary theory from the religious Right in America, in the form of promoting Intelligent Design in education, is perhaps a metaphor for the American struggle in establishing who the Americans really are. The modern Left has a hammer-lock on educational institutions throughout the West, and advocacy for teaching Intelligent Design by all appearances seems to be an attempt to break that hammer-lock. Although the connection between ID advocacy and fighting radical Islam is not obvious, the winners of this and other future cultural battles will create the people who ultimately have to take a stand against radical Islam, perhaps laying down their lives or surrendering. Secular culture has little choice but to give up some of its dominance, or like the French liberals who later came to occupy posts in government of Vichy France, give up completely at the feet of a tyranical conqueror who at least believed in something worth dying for.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Janmastami

Today is Janmashtami, the appearance day of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Jaya Sri Krishna!!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Further Thoughts on Inter-Civilizational Cooperation

Yesterday's post "What Annoys Indians?" could have just as well been named "What Annoys?" The answer is always "the other"--that which is not like us. The Sino-Islamic axis is basically limited to military and economic cooperation against a set of common enemies. Beyond that there is no love between Islamists and the Han Chinese. Perhaps it is too optimistic to expect a love between Western and Hindu civilizations beyond substantial military and economic cooperation.

Different aspects of India's social system, for example, just plain annoy Westerners and probably always will, and vice-versa. In the book May You Be The Mother of a Hundred Sons, Elisabeth Bumiller, in contemplating the preocupation Indian mothers have with arranging their children's marriages, wryly observes that in general young Indian boys and girls are not allowed to date--as if being allowed to date were a sign of cultural progress. That is typical wisdom coming from someone who appears to support many if not all the social conventions that are responsible for the West's spiraling depopulation; in history, depopulation has been a harbinger of civilizational collapse. After ruling the world for the last 200 - 300 years, on cultural issues the West has become something like an old man who refuses to accept that he is losing control of his body and lashes out at anyone who suggests he should give up his car keys.

Cooperation between Hindu and Western civilizations, as in other civilizational joint ventures, is probably not a viable proposition beyond military and economic cooperation. When the need for such cooperation disappears, then the rivalry between former civilizational partners will again move to conflict in the economic and military arenas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What Annoys Indians?

We think we already have a good idea of what annoys Westerners. Since one of the objectives of this blog is fostering Western-Hindu cooperation (partly to counter the Sino-Islamic axis that harbors not-so-good intentions toward Westerners and Hindus), overcoming annoyances that arise between Westerners and Hindus is something this site has an interest in. Over at Gates of Vienna is a discussion, which to begin with, is a summary study of how Westerners piss off Hindus and how pissed-off Hindus react. Let's see if the feathers on both sides can be unruffled. This post will be updated.

Update

Well, the discussion didn't go much anywhere, but up through Sumnath's comment is a pretty good encapsulation of mutual cultural annoyance (MCA). It starts with the main post and goes downhill from there. (If you stick this out to the end, there is dry land at the end of this swamp--I promise.)
Main Post and Comments
If you take the conclusion as the summarization and implications of whatever preceded it (which it usually should be), then its a post about liberty and freedom--like what would it take to liberate these poor, abused women. The facts the authoress marshals to support her case speak not only of widespread abuse but suggests that such abuse has social approval, or has at least met with indifference. In other words, it's not just a bunch of bad men but its the social norms that are being examined. This is a commentary on a society, specifically a South Asian Islamic society.

Now enter the rest of South Asia: (quoted from the post, emphasis mine) As it is in India, so in Bangladesh: very young women — girls, really — are married off to older men. In what should function as a kind of economic surety for the girls, the dowry that accompanies marriage is used by the husband and his family for their own purposes.

Bangladeshi Muslim society is now being used as a proxy for India (meaning Hindu society in India); few things upset Hindus more than being lumped in with Muslims. This begins to explain the comment from Sumnath, who from what I gather from his posted link is not excactly a self-loathing-secular-liberal-hinduoid-offspring of Lord McCauley. Of course, it is not that things like this don't go on among Hindus, either, its just that most Hindus get offended because most Hindus don't do those kinds of things, and then you have someone casually passing judgment on what must be more than a billion people. It doesn't feel good, really.

Then in the comments section things go down hill from there. One commentator wrote, "Maybe it's time to drop them a half-billion Liberty pistols with pictoral instructions on how to shoot their abusive men in their sleep."

And no one commenting is exactly protesting this, either.

You can start to see why Indians, Hindus especially, see the global war on terror as America's war on terror. Hindus haven't forgotten that the British government in India covertly supported the Muslim League to use it as a bargaining chip with the Hindu nationalists, and Muslim behavior toward Hindus back then was no more charitable than it is now--propaganda not withstanding. What does that have to do with the post and comments under discussion? A continuation of ill will, perhaps.

It appears that the commentator Sumnath submitted his comment as a counterbalance to the uncharitable rhetoric about Indian society. Perhaps what he wrote was not so convincing, but after all that's been said in the post and in the thread, he's Indian and subsequently he's already a dog with a bad name. So who's going to take him seriously or reconsider their opinions? I wouldn't regard his attempt to sway the minds of the other readers and commentators as forceful, but undoubtedly it was his way of saying things in India aren't what they've been made out to be.
Analysis
Here are the essential points:
  • Lack of personal familiarity with the societies being discussed.
  • Culture leaves a distinct impression on all facets of a participant society.
Considering these two points, the post and the comments themselves were overly broad in their criticisms and too far removed from their subject. Non-challant expressions that amounted to suggesting that wiping out an entire civilization might not be a bad thing weren't protested; that undermined any legitimate concerns that may have been expressed in the posting or in the comments. Those kinds of comments were probably not seen as offensive by the commentators because there was little if any personal connection with the people being talked about.

Also, crime as it happens in India or wherever is going to look culturally distinct from crimes as we are used to them in the good old USA or in even older Europe. That distinctness of the "other" is easily confused as a social norm for the other society. For example, Andrea Yates's drowning her five children was a horrible and shocking crime within America. But then if it was so shocking, why did NOW (National Organization of Women) rush to Yates's defense? NOW had their reasons, all of which were about "root causes," and it so happens that lack of conscience or morality somehow never made it to NOW's root-cause list. But come on, NOW--killing your own children because you had a bad day? Indian women, many of whom have 5 or more children, couldn't be blamed for experiencing a xenophobic shiver on getting this news. Ok, the hairy-legged man-haters over at NOW can get silly; most Americans agreed that Andrea Yates committed a heinous crime. But the crime certainly wasn't normal, was it?

This press release from the Government of India in the Washington Times (July 19, 1996) puts dowry deaths in a similar perspective:
Correspondent doesn't permit facts to get in the way of a good story
Let me respond to the article, "`Women's court' chips away at backlog" (World, July 8), which included the statement: "Dowry deaths are a common crime. The usual method is for the husband and his parents to burn the women."

This letter is prompted by the sweeping generalizations in the article. India is a hugely complex society, and it is a nation of more than 900 million people, about half of whom are women. It is easy to make generalizations by buttressing reports with numbers that sound impressive, but just a little more care would produce articles that would be more reflective of the truth and, therefore, would give your readers a clearer picture.

The dowry system is outlawed. Only very recently the Supreme Court of India handed down an extremely tough interpretation of the law that makes dowry de-mands - before, during or after marriage negotiations, a crime. It is a truism that the article ignores that even the toughest of laws does not remove social flaws overnight, particularly if a flaw has existed for thousands of years.

The highest number of dowry deaths in India in a single year was documented by authorities at slightly more than 4,000, but if you compare that to the total number of married women in India (just over 250 million), perhaps then one would understand that describing dowry deaths as "common" is ludicrous. They happen, but they are an aberration.

Arianna Huffington's July 9 column ("Inflicting agony in the name of family," Commentary) mentioned that more than 1,000 children are killed by their parents each year in the United States, and an article in Time magazine a few years ago said that more than 2,000 wives are battered to death by their husbands each year in this country. This certainly does not make the United States a nation where child-killing and wife-battering are "common." These are aberrations, and it is legitimate for an alert and free press to highlight them so that law and society can tackle the problem.

To portray isolated crimes as almost a norm in society, as that article does, is perhaps typical of the "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story" school of journalism.

SHIV S. MUKHERJEE

Minister (Press, Information and Culture)

Embassy of India

Washington
To our Western friends in particular, what's being asked of you is to be a leeetle bit more cautious with what you write and please think 100 times before tarring-and-feathering with the written or spoken word some other society that, when the facts are in, is most likely as civilized as your own. And to our Hindu friends, please try to move on from the past, and don't forget that some of the less savory customs you sometimes associate with Western peoples are becoming prominent among Indians. (And I'm talking about customs and habits that really aren't good for anyone no matter what the civilization and in whatever period of history.)

No one is "fit to cast the first stone," and there is a lot to appreciate in each other. So, with mutual respect, can we please move on from here? We have a world to save. . .

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Burned to the Ground

It seems Akbar the Great, Mogul ruler of India, really was contemptuous of Islam:
On the same occasion the King [Akbar] caused all the Alcorans in the town in which he then held his court to be razed to the ground. By the word 'Alcoran'2 is signified not only the law of Mahomet, but certain high towers from which the ministers of the sect of Mahomet, in a loud voice, invoke their false prophet, and from which they summon the people to prayer. The mosques also, which are the temples of the same deceiver, were by his order converted into stables for horses and elephants; and since one of the greatest of his former difficulties had been the multitude of his wives, he abandoned them all save one, giving them in marriage to various lords and gentlemen of his court. 3 He also made proclamation, by sound of trumpet, that, from that time forward, no Mahometan should circumcise his male children until they had attained the age of 15 years, so that they might choose for themselves the law which they desired to follow. (Du Jarric 45)
This might have to become a necessary policy in dealing with radical Islam. The Mahometans sure don't have any qualms about destroying anyone else's place of worship.

Works Cited

Pierre Du Jarric, Akbar and the Jesuits: An Account of the Jesuit Missions to the Court of Akbar, trans. Payne, C. H., eds. Ross, E. Denison andEileen Power (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1926)

Islam as an Ideology

In the last entry, "Why Akbar Did Not Become A Christian," I wrote:
If there is any modern parallel to Akbar's stumbling blocks in his spiritual journey, it is that secularism and sexual license also seem to go hand-in-hand. It should be noted that all the other great religions of the world that have a fundamental doctrine of peace and nonviolence also have built into them an asceticism that clearly designates worldly pleasure as detrimental to spiritual progress. This is true of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but not so of Islam. Furthermore, if we analyze other radically materialistic ideologies that have seen extensive political expression, Facism and Communism of the last century are unparalleled in their brutality and contempt for life. Islam therefore appears to be a radically worldly ideology, like Facism or Communism, but decorated in the trappings of religious ritual and tradition.
Now there is blog with quotes from tons of people who have made similar observations and who, unlike me, are not nobodies. Welcome to the the blogosphere The Truth Project. They are all "money" quotes, but here is a sample:
The reason I am against Islam is not because it is a religion but because it is a political ideology of imperialism and domination in the guise of religion.
Because Islam does not follow the Golden Rule, it attracts violent people.
-Al Sina
And we could add that it creates violent people, too. Here's one from the Mahometans:
We have the right to kill 4 million Americans, two million of them children.
-Abu Gheith, Al-Qaeda spokesman
My God! If we're going to win this war, our most formidable enemy is not the Muslims but the social, political, and academic Left. Long ago they forgot that their vantage point from which they can sneer at the rest of us moralists was made possible by men who, unlike them, could tell right from wrong and who acted with a conscience. I mean, how in the name of multiculturalism can Islam be passed off by the Left as a "peaceful religion"?

Any way, visit The Truth Project. (Hat tip: The Gates of Vienna.)

Why Akbar Did Not Become A Christian

In the book "Akbar and the Jesuits: An Account of the Jesuit Missions to the Court of Akbar," which is a narrative of the Jesuit missions to the court of Akbar in India, from 1578 through 1605 (the year Akbar died), the Jesuit Fathers describe the interest and reverence Akbar had for the Christian faith. He displayed so much reverence for it that the Jesuit Fathers were full with expectations of his conversion.
On one occasion, the King [Akbar], having come to see what his son was learning, bade him read aloud to him the exercise which the Fathers had given him to write. The exercise commenced with the words 'In the name of God,' on hearing which his Majesty at once told him to add the words 'and of Jesus Christ the true prophet and son of God'; and this was done then and there in his presence. 4 He then entered the chapel, where the Fathers daily said mass for the benefit of the Portuguese connected with the court; for there were several who had made their homes in this country, and others who had journeyed there for the purpose of trade. The King entered the oratory unaccompanied by any of his guards or courtiers, and having removed his turban from his head, fell upon his knees and prayed, first of all in our fashion, then in his own, that is to say, after the manner of the Saracens of Persia, whose law he still outwardly observed, and lastly in the fashion of the Gentiles. "God," he said, as he rose from his devotions, "ought to be adored with every kind of adoration." After that, he seated himself on a cushion on the floor; and when the Fathers had also seated themselves, he told them that he did not doubt that our law was the best of all, and that he beheld something more than human in the life and miracles of Jesus-Christ; but that it was beyond his comprehension how God could have a son. On a subsequent visit, after talking on sundry topics, he said: "Fathers, you have, by your discourses, taught me many things about your law, which please me more than all that I have been able to learn of other laws, whether of the Saracens, or the Gentiles; and, for my part, I regard the law of the Saracens as worse than any other."

Eight days later, he again came to the oratory, accompanied this time by his three sons, and some of the chief nobles of his court. For a while he stood apart, looking attentively at the various objects in the chapel, and expressing his admiration of them in the presence of his courtiers. He then removed his shoes from his feet, and ordered his sons and all who were with him to do likewise, this being the custom observed by Moslims when entering their mosques. He showed great reverence for the pictures of our Saviour and the blessed Virgin, and even for those of other saints; and he ordered his painter to make copies of those which the Fathers had placed in their chapel. He also ordered his goldsmith to make for him a casket of gold with a richly carved lid, similar in shape to the copper casket in which the Fathers carried the images of our Saviour and the Virgin. Before leaving, he told the Fathers that their law appealed to him very strongly; but that there were two points in it which he could not comprehend, namely, the Trinity and the Incarnation. If they could explain these two things to his satisfaction, he would, he said, declare himself a Christian, even though it cost him his kingdom. (Du Jarric 25 - 27)
From this description, even if partially true, we could forgive the Jesuit Fathers for thinking that Akbar would become a Christian. But Akbar never converted. Why?

According to the Jesuits, Akbar had several stumbling blocks, the most prominent of which were his preference to subordinate faith to reason, political ambition, and his attachment to his many wives. With regard to his preference for understanding everything according to reason, the Jesuits wrote:
But although such acts as these seemed to show that the King held the Christian faith in high esteem, there were, nevertheless, many things which stood in the way of his embracing it. The first was his unwillingness to accept the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation without being able to comprehend them; so that he was kept in a state of perpetual irresolution, not knowing where to fix his faith. "For the Gentiles," he said, "regard their law as good; and so likewise do the Saracens and the Christians. To which then shall we give our adherence?" Thus we see in this Prince the common fault of the atheist, who refuses to make reason subservient to faith, and, accepting nothing as true which his feeble mind is unable to fathom, is content to submit to his own imperfect judgement matters transcending the highest limits of human understanding. (Du Jarric 29)
The Jesuits have a valid epistemological point: If everything about God were understandable by reason alone (Deism), then would it be God that was actually being understood? If God could fit neatly into whatever conceptual boundaries that can be formed by the human mind, then God wouldn't be God, for being perfectly conceivable by virtue of the efforts of limited beings would have to mean God Himself would be so limited. Akbar much appreciated Christian teachings, and he even more appreciated the habits, demeanor, and devotion of the Jesuit Fathers, yet Akbar insisted that all assertions ultimately had to be understood through the agency of reason. We can see from this that Akbar was by temperament quite secular even by today's standards.

His political compulsions also got the better of him. On account of his tryst with Christianity, a Mohammedan uprising took place in Bengal and which, if unchecked, threatened his personal and political well being. Becoming a Christian would have been at odds with his political ambitions, and on account of this he distanced himself for some time from the Jesuits, although inwardly he maintained his appreciation of Christian teachings over that of Islam.

The last significant stumbling block was allowances the Koran made for a man to have many wives, or in the afterlife promises made by the Koran for heavenly but nevertheless carnal rewards. If Akbar were to convert, he could only keep one wife--something neither he nor his many wives wanted.
But, in the eyes of many, that which constituted the greatest hindrance to his conversion to our faith was the multitude of wives which the Mahometan law permitted him to keep. There were in his seraglio as many as a hundred women; and it was doubtful if he would ever be willing to renounce all of these but one, and to live with that one in lawful wedlock, as the Christian law demands. (Du Jarric 30)
Furthermore, though convinced in his [Akbar's] own mind that the law of the Evangelists was superior to all others, he was still held in bondage by the vicious customs and licentious indulgences to which the law of Mahomet gives its sanction. (Du Jarric 37)
Akbar hesitated to embrace Christianity because of his intellectual disposition and his attachment to sensual pleasure, whether in this world or the next. Akbar's intellectual disposition was clearly secular, and the epitome of his proclivity for worldy enjoyment was sexual license (with politics as a close second). Akbar, it appears, was a moderate--a liberal of his time--who came to the precipice of embracing a superior way, yet couldn't on account of his worldly attachments.

If there is any modern parallel to Akbar's stumbling blocks in his spiritual journey, it is that secularism and sexual license also seem to go hand-in-hand. It should be noted that all the other great religions of the world that have a fundamental doctrine of peace and nonviolence also have built into them an asceticism that clearly designates worldly pleasure as detrimental to spiritual progress. This is true of Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but not so of Islam. Furthermore, if we analyze other radically materialistic ideologies that have seen extensive political expression, Facism and Communism of the last century are unparalleled in their brutality and contempt for life. Islam therefore appears to be a radically worldly ideology, like Facism or Communism, but decorated in the trappings of religious ritual and tradition.

Works Cited

Pierre Du Jarric, Akbar and the Jesuits: An Account of the Jesuit Missions to the Court of Akbar, trans. Payne, C. H., eds. Ross, E. Denison andEileen Power (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1926)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Secularism as a Harmonizing Social Substrate

Around the world the conventional wisdom is that for people of differing religions to accommodate one another the social context must be secular. Secularism itself is seen as transcending sectarian religious belief, so that makes it the logical choice of society in which other sub-beliefs can be accommodated. Yet secularism, which is guided by empirical science, is unable to define a concept of the self that transcends the brute stuff of nature: atoms, molecules, and other natural phenomena. And because secularism is also a belief about who we really are, instead of being an accommodating social subtrate for other beliefs it becomes yet another belief--one among many--that has to compete with the rest. That would explain why it was ulitmately unacceptable that the secular Congress party of India represent the interests of Muslims in Kashmir.

However, they [Kashmiri Muslims] had limited room for manoeuvre, tied as they were to political events and discourse in India. Zutshi shows persuasively how Sheikh Abdullah, a popular leader of Kashmir Muslims against the Hindu maharajah, ended up allying himself with the Hindu-dominated Congress party and its rhetoric of secularism in independent India. A secular nationalist platform was better able to accommodate regional and religious diversity within Jammu and Kashmir, and so it was a convenient means to achieve power. It also helped maintain a moral advantage over political opponents, who could be discredited as rank "communalists".

But Abdullah's expedient secularism subordinated Kashmir to a distant power in Delhi; and it denied citizenship rights to Kashmiri Muslims while asking them to give up their loyalty to their regional and religious groupings. No wonder that most Kashmiris resented this bargain and that Sheikh Abdullah became a hated figure among the young, educated Muslims who began the anti-India insurgency in 1989. (Mishra)

Essentially the Kashmiri Muslims rejected a definition of the self inherent in the secularism on which the Congress party was intellectually founded. In the face of powerful global forces which are behind a revival of religion in the world, secular ideology eventually had to give way to radicalized forms of religion. Samuel Huntington notes that globalization creates a vacuum in self-identity that religion is well suited to fill.
Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from long-standing local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled "fundamentalist." Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The "unsecularization of the world," George Weigel has remarked, "is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century." The revival of religion, "la revanche de Dieu," as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations. (Huntington 2)
Note that the Kashmiri Muslims who rallied around radical Islam tended to be educated, just as Mohammed Atta and the other World Trade Center bombers were also educated. Radical Islam is as much about finding an identity that transcends the metaphysically empty secularism on which modern globalism is founded. This indicates that any social substrate that can accommodate a tamed form of Islam must necessarily have metaphysical substance and be able to accommodate differing expressions of religious beliefs.

On a practical and immediate level, if true, this would suggest that the Iraqi constitution, if it fails, will fail for metaphysical reasons if not for anything else.

Works Cited

Huntington, Samuel. "The clash of civilizations?" Foreign Affairs. New York: Summer 1993. Online 20 Aug 2005. <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/sipa/U6800/readings-sm/foreign_aff_huntington.pdf>
Mishra, Pankaj. "Valley of the shadows." (A review of Mridu Rai's "Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, rights and the history of Kashmir.") 30 Aug 2004. The New Statesman. 20 Aug 2005. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FQP/is_4703_133/ai_n6247140>

Friday, August 19, 2005

Akbar "The Great"

If ever there was an influential Muslim ruler who was remembered for his great works rather than his military conquests, that Muslim ruler was Akbar "The Great," who lived from 1542 - 1605 and ruled India. In Akbar is a template for what a tolerant Muslim ruler would be like. Indiahistory.com provides a brief synopsis of Akbar The Great's life.
Akbar came to throne in 1556, after the death of his father, Humayun. At that time, Akbar was only 13 years old. Akbar was the only Mughal king to ascend to the throne without the customary war of succession; as his brother Muhammad Hakim was too feeble to offer any resistance. (Indiahistory.com)
This was an anomaly, to be sure. It is also telling that warfare was customary in the matter of succession. It appears that in Muslim society "might makes right" is a virtue. Nonetheless, Akbar's patronage of culture, advocacy of tolerance of non-Muslims, and his military conquests made him indisputably great.
It may come as a surprise for many that a great ruler like Akbar actually could not read or write! And yet, he had a tremendous love for learning. During his lifetime, Akbar collected thousands of beautifully written and illustrated manuscripts. He also surrounded himself with writers, scholars, musicians, painters, and translators. His court had the fabled Nine Gems - nine famous personalities from different walks of life. These included music maestro Tansen and intelligent statesman Birbal.

The reign of Akbar was a period of renaissance of Persian literature. The Ain-i-Akbari gives the names of 59 great Persian poets of Akbar's court. History was the most important branch of Persian prose literature. Abul Fazl's Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari were complementary works. Akbar and his successors, Jehangir and Shah Jehan greatly contributed to the development of Indian music. Tansen was the most accomplished musician of the age. Ain-i-Akbari gives the names of 36 first-rate musicians of Akbar's court where Hindu and Muslim style of music mingled freely. The Mughal architectural style began as a definite movement under his rule. Akbar's most ambitious and magnificent architectural undertaking was the new capital city that he built on the ridge at Sikri near Agra. The city was named as Fatehpur to commemorate Akbar's conquest of Gujrat in 1572. The most impressive creation of this new capital is the grand Jamia Masjid. The southern entrance to the Jamia Masjid is an impressive gateway known as Buland Darwaza. (Indiahistory.com)
There seems to be a connection between tolerance and an appreciation of culture, art, poetry, scholarship, architecture, etc. Once when I was in India, I attended a concert given by Zakir Hussain, the world renowned tabla player. At these concerts, people often dress in clothes they might wear to a temple and decorate themselves with religious markings on their faces. This was the case at this concert. However, up in front several concert attendees were lying on their backs. During the concert Zakir Hussain noticed this and announced that everyone should sit up, but they did not respond. Zakir Hussain (himself a Muslim) then stopped the concert and admonished them, saying, "This is the venue of Goddess Sarasvati, please sit up and show respect." (Sarasvati is the Hindu goddess of learning.) After everyone complied, the concert went on.

So, the other thing that made Akbar great were his military conquests and his tolerance of Hindus.
During his reign, Akbar managed to subdue almost all of India, with the remaining areas becoming tributary states. Along with his military conquests, he introduced a series of reforms to consolidate his power. Akbar practiced tolerance aimed at Hindu-Muslim unification through the introduction of a new religion known as Din-i-Ilahi. He won over the Hindus by naming them to important military and civil positions, by conferring honors upon them, and by marrying a Hindu princess.

He appointed nobles and mansabdars without any religious prejudice. Akbar's religious innovations and policies, and deviation from Islamic dogma, have been a source of debate and controversy. Akbar was a great patron of literary works and scholars. His court had numerous scholars of the day who are well known as "Nauratan".
It appears that Akbar's tolerance was correlated with distancing himself from Islam. His tolerance was not through a revitalization of faith in Islam. We could surmise from this that a future wave of tolerance within the body politic of Islam might be similar to this, where the people in general distance themselves from Islam.

It also seems to be true that Akbar could for a time get away with his public brand of tolerant religion because back then military power could be possessed only by those wealthy and strong enough to possess them. I'm sure that many, many imams back then thought ill of Akbar (and from what I hear they still think ill of him), but without the proliferation of small arms and heavy hand-held weapons like RPGs as is the situation today, what could they have done?

Now because of the proliferation of technology, even if we were to bomb all the factories that produce all the weapons used in the Middle East, the knowledge and technical means for reproducing them are still available. Nonetheless, producing these weapons requires significant industrial resources, and significant industrial resources require significant capital. So reigning in radical Islam might require not only enlightened leaders like Akbar but the destruction of the Islamic economy so that the wealth needed to arm insurgents becomes significantly more difficult.

So, the creation of an Akbar appears to require a distancing from Islam itself. And to protect those who might preside over Islamic society but distance themselves from Islam, as did Akbar, the means of warfare, if at all possible, has to again become an expensive proposition out of reach of most people. The latter requirement, however, appears quite far fetched. Is it achievable? If it is, I don't see how.

Works Cited

Indiahistory.com. "Akbar - The Great" 19 Aug 2005. Indiahistory.com. 19 Aug 2005. <http://www.indhistory.com/akbar.html>

Thursday, August 18, 2005

America's War on Terror

This news item about the US seeking India's help in the global fight against terror is not exactly upbeat. Although the article identifies terrorism as a scourge, it isn't exactly gushing, either. And in the middle of the article is a link that reads, "Also see America's war on terror." But it's supposed to be every-civilized-one's war on terror, right?

Indians have forgotten about more terror incidents in their own country than Americans, Brittons, Spaniards, or the French may ever encounter at home in their life-times--combined. What is 3,000 people killed in the World Trade Center compared to the nearly 40,000 people killed in Kashmir? The cynicism is understandable: with India having the world's largest Muslim population of any country, and nuclear-armed and inimical Pakistan to its West and less-than-grateful Bangladesh to its East, what does the Global War on Terror get for India? Not much, it seems.

Killing Trumps Culture

For all the talk of starting a cultural revolution within Islam to subdue its radical elements, that can only happen when the voice of opposition cannot be silenced, or killed. This is an old report, but it is likely still a strategy being pursued.
In a change of strategy, members of the Taliban are killing Muslim clerics who oppose the call for jihad or holy war against American and foreign troops in Afghanistan, a media report in New York said on Monday.

PTI. "Taliban changes strategy; targets clerics opposed to jihad: Report" August 04, 2003 Rediff.com 18 Aug 2005. <http://www.rediff.com/us/2003/aug/04ny.htm>
You can't have a cultural revolution when your cultural revolutionary leaders are being killed off. Targeting fundamentalist clerics in kind seems to be the logical counter-strategy. These people don't respect anything but violence, so speaking their language is the best bet to get their attention.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Courting India for the War on Terror

India could probably do a lot more in the War on Terror, even if much of it is still in its own country. But it appears the West has much to do to win the confidence of Indians. With Indians, it's like "Muslim terrorism. . . Uh huh. . . so what's new?" Rajeev Srinivasan writes:
Muslim violence and terrorism in India have never bothered the British. The Maraad massacre and the Godhra incineration and the ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir were either ignored or rationalised by them. The recent incident in Jammu, when five Hindus were beheaded and a Hindu woman was hacked to death with an axe, did not excite their alleged sense of 'fair play'. Then should Indians weep for them when they are victimised? Poetic justice, as Indira Gandhi found out: He who rides the fundamentalist tiger is skating on thin ice, to mix metaphors wildly. (Srinivasan)
Not only is there an element of "We told you so," but there is a kind of angry incredulity--"You sucked up to the Pakis, right? Well, good for you, maybe you could use a few more bomgings." Let's face it, Hindus are still upset with the treatment they have received from the West up till, like recently.

Although I'm sure there is heightened cooperation between Western and Indian intelligence agencies since 9/11, India is a democracy, and we can expect that the political decisions India makes will to some extent resemble popular sentiment.

It looks like the West has more to do to bring India on board with them, and it looks like that will mean making up to India somehow. From India's side, that will likely mean gradually taking a stand against Pakistani designs and incursions on Kashmir and the rest of Indian sovereign territory. Until then, expect tepid Indian support for the West in the War on Terror.

Works Cited

Srinivasan, Rajeev. "Terrorism comes to Londonistan." 9 Aug 2005. Rediff.com. 16 Aug 2005. <http://www.rediff.com/news/2005/aug/10rajeev.htm>

Monday, August 15, 2005

Theology Matters

Commenator wildiris, who reposts a comment he made over at The Belmont Club, nails it:
The Reformation, as I have come to understand it, was not just a religious event, but a cultural/political tranformation of western European society that took several generations to work through. The important point, for the purpose of discussions here, is that the early Protestant Christians, by trying to return Christianity to its roots, brought back into being, a form of Christianity that was not only tolerant but fully supportive of the new political/social/cultural changes that were occurring across western European societies at that time.

Once I started to think about the Reformation in this manner, it became clear that, unlke Christianity, Islam has no "there" there to go back to. In fact, just the opposite would be true, Islam by returning to its roots could only turn into an even more intolerant and hostile force against modern western cultural ways; which apparently is what is actually happening these days.
Read the whole thing.

Separation of Church / Temple and State / Rashtra

In The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington observes that the separation of spiritual and temporal authority appears to be a practice and belief that both Western and Hindu civilizations have in common: (Emphasis added.)
Throughout Western history first the Church and then many churches existed apart from the state. God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual authority and temporal authority, have been a prevailing dualism in Western culture. Only in Hindu civilization were religion and politics also so distinctly separated. In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar's junior partner. The separation and recurring clashes between chruch and state that typify Western civilization have existed in no other civilization. This division of authority contributed immeasurably to the development of freedom in the West. (Huntington 70)
Clashes between spiritual and temporal authority are also to be found in the history of Hindu civilization. Two scriptural references from the Bhagavata Purana include the destruction of the kshatriya (warrior) order (all the kings in the world) by Parashurama, a brahmana (priest) and incarnation of Vishnu. Then there is also the killing of King Vena by the brahmanas on account of Vena's atrocities. Probably the best known example in recorded history was the successful dethronement of King Dhananand of the Nanda dynasty by Chanakya Pandit (a brahmana scholar). The Nandas were the rulers of Magadha, a powerful kingdom in what is now Bihar, India. In Dhananand's place, Chanakya Pandit installed Chandragupta Maurya, who was also Chanakya's student from boyhood.

Works Cited

Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations. First trade paperback edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Srimad-Bhagavatam. 4 Jul 2004. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. 14 August 2005. <http://vedabase.net/sb/4/14/en1>
Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Srimad-Bhagavatam. 4 Jul 2004. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. 14 August 2005. <http://vedabase.net/sb/9/16/en1>
Wikipedia. "Magadha." 12 Aug 2005. Wikipedia. 14 Aug 2005. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magadha>
Rao, B.N. Gunda. Chanakya. "I Will Dethrone You." Freeindia.org. 14 Aug 2005. <http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/greatpersonalities/chanakya/page6.htm>

Where Does Islam Fit In?

Over at Midwest Conservative Journal, a reader by the name of Katherine made this comment:
This constant repetition of the "three Abrahamic faiths" line is getting on my nerves. Christianity is founded firmly on the base of the Hebrew Scriptures. We read them, quote them, pray the Psalms, and find Jesus as the fulfillment of them. Islam is something else. Islam pays lip service to "the Book" but its conception of God is radically different. Where it refers to OT or NT stories, they are in garbled form, consistent with Muhammad's only surface familiarity with both Judaism and Christianity. Seventh-century Christians who knew Islam regarded it as a Christian heresy, like the gnostics before it, understanding only a small portion of the revelation of God to Jews and Christians, and misunderstanding its meaning. Neither Jews nor Christians can accept Islamic "revelation" as valid.

Katherine. Comment to "Frankly Speaking." 13 Aug 2005. Midwest Conservative Journal. 15 Aug 2005. <http://mcj.bloghorn.com/1868#Comments>
Contempt for the scriptures of the Jews and Christians appears to manifest as contempt for the Jews and Christians themselves. If we want to talk about root causes, here's one.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Good Religion, Bad Religion: What's really at the Core?

Over at rediff.com Sushant Sareen (kind of) hits the nail on the head:
. . . it is critical that no justification is provided to terrorism by talking of 'root causes'. The war against Islamic terrorism has to be really fought within Islamic societies if a 'clash of civilisations' is to beavoided. (Sareen)
He's right that it will ultimately take a cultural revolution from within to rein in radical Islam. How he comes to this conclusion, though, could prevent this from happening because it still sets secular ideology as superior to religion--something that has broadly offendend religious people throughout the world--and needless to say has fueled a big part of radical Islam. Sareen writes:
Until the separation of the Church from the State, Christianity was hardly a religion of peace -- remember the inquisitions and the desire to 'harvest the souls of heathens and pagans' by whatever means necessary. However, today, Christians, if not their Church and priests, are far more tolerant of other religions and cultures.

Hinduism too has its share of institutionalised hatred. It is hardly important whether the obnoxious caste system has religious sanction or not. What is important is that many practising Hindus still discriminate against the so-called lower castes. But caste discrimination, while it still exists, is no longer the ruling paradigm of Hindu religion. Whether this is the result of a political churning taking place in the country or the result of 'enlightenment' is hardly an issue. (Sareen)
Evolution seems to be the underlying concept in this analysis. His point seems to be that religions evolve to a higher, more civilized standard of human rights. They start out violent and then over time "grow up." I think that is not necessarily the case with all religions. For example, the early Christians displayed some of the most tolerant behavior in the history of man. In chapter 2 of The Martyrs of Palestine, by Eusebius, there is the story of Romanus, who was siezed at Antioch:
When the judge had informed him that he was to die by flames, with a cheerful countenance and a most ardent mind he received the sentence and was led away. He was then tied to the stake, and when the wood was heaped up about him, and they were kindling the pile, only waiting the word from the expected emperor, he exclaimed, "where then is the fire?" Saying this he was summoned again before the emperor, to be subjected to new tortures, and tehrefore had his tongue cut out, which he bore with the greatest of fortitude, as he proved his actions to all, showing also that the power of God is always present to the aid of those who are obliged to bear any hardship for the sake of religion, to lighten their labours, and to strengthen their ardor. (qtd. in Stark 165)
It appears that tolerance defined the earliest Christians. Similarly the degraded caste system Sareen refers to appears to be a later development within Hinduism. In the Bhagavata Purana, the sons of Rshabadeva, an incarnation of Vishnu but a kshatriya (warrior caste) nonetheless, gave birth to sons who became brahmanas (priestly caste):
In addition to these nineteen sons mentioned above, there were eighty-one younger ones, all born of Rshabhadeva and Jayanti. According to the order of their father, they became well cultured, well behaved, very pure in their activities and expert in Vedic knowledge and the performance of Vedic rituals. Thus they all became perfectly qualified brahmanas. (Prabhupada 5.4.13 trans.)
Then there is the history of Vishvamitra Muni, who was formerly a kshatriya but who later by penance became a brahmana. Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, was a kshatriya and the brother of Maharaja Nanda, who was a vaishya, a lower caste. Their exchanges as retold within the Bhagavat Purana are intimate and full of love. And finally, in the Chandogya Upanishad there is this exchange between Gautama Rishi and Jabala Satyakama, the son of a prostitute who wanted to become a brahmana:
Once, Satyakama, the son of Jabala, asked his mother, 'I want to live as a brahmacari. Which dynasty (gotra) do I belong to?' Jabala answered, 'My son, I do not know which dynasty you belong to; in my youth I served as a midservant in various places and at that time begot you as my son. Therefore I don't know which gotra you belong to. My name is Jabala and your name is Satyakama. Therefore you should say that your name is Satyakama Jabala.' Thereafter Satyakama Jabala approached Haridrumata Gautama and said, 'I wish to live with you as a brahmacari.' Gautama replied, 'O gentle one, which dynasty do you belong to?' Satyakama replied, ' I do not know which dynasty I belong to. I askd my mother and she said, 'I begot you as my son when I was wandering in my youth as a maidservant. Therefore I do not know which dynasty you belong to. My name is Jabala and your name is Satyakama. So I am called Satyakama Jabala.'Gautama then said to him, 'My dear son, no one other than a brahmana can speak such truth that you have spoken. Therefore you are a brahmana, and I accept you. O gentle one, go and bring wood for sacrifice.' Jabala replied, 'I am going right now to bring wood.' Gautama said, 'Never divert from the truth.' (Gosai)
In the case of Christianity and the virtue of tolerance, and in Hinduism with the idea that social status is based not on birth but on merit, both religions appear to possess these idea from the begining.

But Sareen articulates a popular idea, that religion is almost infinitely maleable.
Thus, for every Quranic verse that preaches love, brotherhood and equality of man, there is another verse that preaches the opposite. Therefore, to say that 'suicide bombing' is an Un-Islamic act is simply a matter of how someone interprets and understands the religion. (Sareen)
From this the solution seems obvious: all you have to do is get all the Muslims to emphasize all the good verses and avoid the bad ones, or interpret them into oblivion, and everyone will be happy. Not so. Syncretism is useful in understanding religions only to a limited point.

Religions still have an historical beginning, and although they appear to evolve over time, they still have core precepts which shape their entire existence. Christian tolerance and the merit-based society within Hinduism were ideas that did not gradually evolve. They were there from the beginning, even if later there were periods where the original idea seemed to be covered and later recovered. This is important because it means that religions start out with specific ideas, and if those ideas are good they may be revived and retain their scriptural and traditional authenticity. But if a religion starts out with some bad precepts, then, reinterpreting scripture to make them good may in the process invalidate the religion's authenticity. Revisionism, especially through formalist criticism (Wenz), has significantly weakened the authority of Christianity in the West, not improved it nor strengthened it.

The idea that religions are what you make of them, that they can mean anything you want them to, hides religion's core precepts--in effect sheltering them from critical analysis. Because of this idea, our secular friends-in-arms, who more or less are in charge of the world-order, could never perform an analysis which might lead them to conclude that Islam might just have to go. On the other hand, after a careful analysis, the core precepts of Islam may prove to be compatible with the rest of the civilized world.

But the idea that we can know something for sure, particularly about religion, is perhaps a frightening prospect. If we set ourselves up as being in possession of the objective truth, then we also set ourselves up to be potential tyrants. Not only Islam, but Christianity, Hinduism, and any other religion might become fair game for those who think they possess the truth--secularism, too. But we can't fight for what we are unsure of, so unsurity, particularly of values, is perhaps the soft underbelly of secularist world-order. Victory over a determined enemy requires that the victor to have been similarly determined, and those most likely to possess that determination will be those who accept there is an objective truth and that it can be known, even if somewhat. These are your religious people.

Just as the defeat of the Soviet Union was made possible by the alliance of America and the Catholic Church, an alliance of the secular and the sacred, defeating radical Islam will likely require a similar alliance--perhaps something grander than the alliance that defeated the Soviet Union.

Works Cited

Gosai "Brahmana Vaisnava Ontology." 13 Aug 2005. Gosai.com <http://www.gosai.com/dvaita/madhvacarya/Brahmana-Vaisnava.html>
Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Srimad-Bhagavatam. 4 Jul 2004. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. 12 August 2005. <http://vedabase.net/sb/5/4/13/en1>
Sareen, Sushant. "The war against radical Islam." 5 Aug 2005. Rediff.com 13 Aug 2005. <http://us.rediff.com/news/2005/aug/06guest1.htm>
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Wenz, Bob. "'Truth' on Two Hills." 9 Jul 2005. Christianity Today (Online). 13 Aug 2005. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/007/32.46.html>

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Friends of Democracy

Michael Totten while subbing for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit tells us about the Friends of Democracy website, which is billed as providing translations of some of the Arabic to Arabic blogging conversations going on. He writes:
Iraqis who blog in English are aware that their audience is primarily Western. Iraqis who blog in Arabic are talking to each other in their own language. Reading Friends of Democracy is your chance to eavesdrop.
OK, so let's go over to FOD and check it out. I'll take three posts at random and see how they hit me. The logical place is to start with the first post:

By the way, I heard an exchange between a citizen and a food ration distributor the other day. The citizen asked if the monthly rations had arrived yet.

"Yes," the distributor said. “We received two items, beans and soap!"

The poor citizen angrily responded: "No wonder everything is upside down when our trade minister is a Kurd."

Keep in mind that the Iraqi bloggers who are reporting this are, compared to most people who are going to participate in the proposed Iraqi democracy, better educated than most. The people complaining about a minister because he is a Kurd will comprise most of the people who are going to call the shots. (It's like that in India, too, BTW.) I'm reminded of the scene in Peter O'Toole's rendition of Col. T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia trying to bring democracy to the Bedouin tribes. It's really like that in much of Asia.

Scrolling down a little (we're still in the first post, BTW), there is this tidbit:

To the Minister of Housing,

We wish to offer our sincere thanks and appreciation for your ministry's plans to build apartment complexes in Najaf exclusively for exiles and expatriates who suffered from full bellies and from stacking Euros and Dollars while enduring the extremely difficult living conditions in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and... Iran.

They did not enjoy the pleasures of eating bread made from black (unrefined) flour or drinking muddy water during the reign of Saddam.

Resentment against affluent expatriate outsiders who did not rough it with the rest. If some of the reins of power are being handed over to some of these expatriates, then that would explain this reaction.

Then there is this quip that is tangentially about gender:

To Sayyid Ammar Al-Hakim,

The people of Najaf sincerely appreciate your educational efforts during your repeated visits to girls' high schools and colleges. We wish you would extend this honor to male high schools and colleges and not to limit it to members of the fair sex.

It is difficult to me to read much into this, but parda, or separation of the sexes, is still a social virtue there. Without more information I don't think any more can be read into it. My assessment of the first post is positive: people have time to worry about social triffles rather than worry about whether or not they will be living the next moment. That could mean things on the ground are getting marginally better.

The next post is a report of a lecture and round table discussion about women and the constitution. Nice pictures of beautifully dressed women in attendence, most of them wearing the hijab, head scarf. Here's the money quote that points to exacerbating the conflict between the sacred and secular within Iraqi society:
The Personal Affairs Law’s undermining of women's rights was a hot topic. So were the issues of a woman’s freedom to travel without a sibling male escort, “honor killings,” and the rights of women to assume high posts in government. The participants also condemned the suggestion to call Iraq an Islamic country.
Under Saddam there was a considerable degree of secularism, so it's likely this conflict will pick up where it left off. The big difference will be that without Saddam religious groups will feel less restrained in opposing the more secular leaning people. It will be interesting to see where this goes. To early to tell yet.

The third post at the very bottom is about religious conspiracy theories (that's its title, too). This post examines some stories of irreligious girls who were transformed into an animal because of defiling the Quran, concludes these stories are hoaxes, and the author wonders why Muslims are trying to deceive other Muslims.

I do not understand these childish attempts to fool Islam and Muslims by other Muslims.

Is it an attempt to glorify God, as if He were sitting there waiting for us to fabricate some illusionary divine victory in order to prove His power?

To me it just looks like another conspiracy theory where everyone is supposedly out there to get Islam and Muslims - only we discover yet again that the real conspiracy was actually plotted by other Muslims.
I guess these things probably started with a fraud, and it is things like this which eventually serve to discredit religious leaders themselves. The author of the post seems to believe that this is not something good in the sense that it unnecessarily discredits religious leaders.
The strangest thing about this incident is that many mosques helped spread the story without making any effort made to confirm it, as should have been the responsibility of the mosque's Imam and preacher.
It appears that this poster is concerned that Islam maintain a good repuation among its adherents; the poster does not seem to be as concerned with outsiders. And indeed, it is the insiders, not the outsiders, who matter in creating the acceptability of religion and the authority of religious leaders.

From this sampling, my take on things in Iraq are that they aren't so different from things over here. We also have problems with our politicians, public gender issues are hotly debated, and at any one time half of America thinks we have a jerk in the White House. The big difference seems to be that enough Iraqis have heavy weapons and no compunction about using them to settle social and political disputes. Aside from that, we seem to be on the same page.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Hindu Encounter With Islam

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, whom Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship as Krishna (God) Himself, appeared in Mayapur, Bengal, in 1486 and resided on this Earth for 48 years to the year 1532. During this time, by Mahaprabhu's influence, a powerful and historical spiritual rennaisance took place in Bengal and throughout throughout much of India. For readers of this blog, what is especially noteworthy is that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's spiritual rennaisance, called The Sankirtan Movement, took place in a land that was controlled by Muslim invaders. The following excerpt from the scripture Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, by Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami, describes an incident in which Mahaprabhu and His associates encountered a group of Muslim soldiers and converted them to Vaishnavism.

The next morning, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu got up early. After taking His bath, He became ecstatic with love, knowing that He now had to leave Vrindavana. Although the Lord did not exhibit any external symptoms, His mind was filled with ecstatic love. At that time, Balabhadra Bhattacarya said, "Let us go to Mahavana [Gokula]."

Saying this, Balabhadra Bhattacarya made Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sit aboard a boat. After they crossed the river, he took the Lord with him. Both Rajaputa Krishnadasa and the Sanodiya brahmana knew the path along the Ganges bank very well. While walking, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, understanding that the others were fatigued, took them all beneath a tree and sat down. There were many cows grazing near that tree, and the Lord was very pleased to see them. Suddenly a cowherd boy blew on his flute, and immediately the Lord was struck with ecstatic love. Filled with ecstatic love, the Lord fell to the ground unconscious. He foamed about the mouth, and His breathing stopped.

While the Lord was unconscious, ten cavalry soldiers belonging to the Muslim Pathana military order rode up and dismounted. Seeing the Lord unconscious, the soldiers thought, "This sannyasi must have possessed a large quantity of gold. These four rogues here must have taken away that sannyasi's riches after killing Him by making Him take the poison dhutura."

Thinking this, the Pathana soldiers arrested the four persons and decided to kill them. Because of this, the two Bengalis began to tremble. The devotee Krishnadasa, who belonged to the Rajaputa race, was very fearless. The Sanodiya brahmana was also fearless, and he spoke very bravely. The brahmana said, "You Pathana soldiers are all under the protection of your king. Let us go to your commander and get his decision. This sannyasi is my spiritual master, and I am from Mathura. I am a brahmana, and I know many people who are in the service of the Muslim king. This sannyasi sometimes falls unconscious due to the influence of a disease. Please sit down here, and you will see that He will very soon regain consciousness and His normal condition. Sit down here for a while and keep us all under arrest. When the sannyasi regains his senses, you can question Him. Then, if you like, you can kill us all."

The Pathana soldiers said, "You are all rogues. One of you belongs to the western lands, one to the district of Mathura, and the other two, who are trembling, belong to Bengal.

Rajaputa Krishnadasa said, "I have my home here, and I also have about two hundred Turkish soldiers and about one hundred cannons. If I call loudly, they will come immediately to kill you and plunder your horses and saddles. The Bengali pilgrims are not rogues. You are rogues, for you want to kill the pilgrims and plunder them."

Upon hearing this challenge, the Pathana soldiers became hesitant. Then suddenly Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu regained consciousness. Coming to His senses, the Lord very loudly began chanting the holy name, "Hari! Hari!" The Lord raised His arms upward and began to dance in ecstatic love. When the Lord shouted very loudly in ecstatic love, it appeared to the Muslim soldiers that their hearts were struck by thunderbolts. Seized by fear, all the Pathana soldiers immediately released the four persons. Thus Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not see His personal associates arrested. At that time, Balabhadra Bhattacarya went to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and made Him sit down. Seeing the Muslim soldiers, the Lord regained His normal senses.

All the Muslim soldiers then came before the Lord, worshiped His lotus feet and said, "Here are four rogues. "These rogues have made You take dhutura. Having made You mad, they have taken all Your possessions."

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "These are not rogues. They are My associates. Being a sannyasi beggar, I do not possess anything. Due to epilepsy, I sometimes fall unconscious. Out of their mercy, these four men maintain Me."

Among the Muslims was a grave person who was wearing a black dress. People called him a saintly person. The heart of that saintly person softened upon seeing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He wanted to talk to Him and establish impersonal Brahman on the basis of his own scripture, the Koran. When that person tried to establish the impersonal Brahman conception of the Absolute Truth on the basis of the Koran, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu refuted his argument. Whatever arguments he put forward, the Lord refuted them all. Finally the person became stunned and could not speak.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "The Koran certainly establishes impersonalism, but at the end it refutes that impersonalism and establishes the personal God. The Koran accepts the fact that ultimately there is only one God. He is full of opulence, and His bodily complexion is blackish. According to the Koran, the Lord has a supreme, blissful, transcendental body. He is the Absolute Truth, the all-pervading, omniscient and eternal being. He is the origin of everything. Creation, maintenance and dissolution come from Him. He is the original shelter of all gross and subtle cosmic manifestations."

"The Lord is the Supreme Truth, worshipable by everyone. He is the cause of all causes. By engaging in His devotional service, the living entity is relieved from material existence. No conditioned soul can get out of material bondage without serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Love at His lotus feet is the ultimate goal of life. The happiness of liberation, whereby one merges into the Lord's existence, cannot even be compared to a fragment of the transcendental bliss obtained by service unto the Lord's lotus feet.

"In the Koran there are descriptions of fruitive activity, speculative knowledge, mystic power and union with the Supreme, but ultimately all this is refuted and the Lord's personal feature established, along with His devotional service. The scholars of the Koran are not very advanced in knowledge. Although there are many methods prescribed, they do not know that the ultimate conclusion should be considered the most powerful. Seeing your own Koran and deliberating over what is written there, what is your conclusion?"

The saintly Muslim replied, "All that You have said is true. This has certainly been written in the Koran, but our scholars can neither understand nor accept it. Usually they describe the Lord's impersonal aspect, but they hardly know that the Lord's personal feature is worshipable. They are undoubtedly lacking this knowledge. Since You are that very same Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, please be merciful upon me. I am fallen and unfit. I have studied the Muslim scripture very extensively, but from it I cannot conclusively decide what the ultimate goal of life is or how I can approach it. Now that I have seen You, my tongue is chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. The false prestige I felt from being a learned scholar is now gone."

Saying this, the saintly Muslim fell at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and requested Him to speak of life's ultimate goal and the process by which it could be obtained. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "Please get up. You have chanted the holy name of Krishna; therefore the sinful reactions you have accrued for many millions of lives are now gone. You are now pure." Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then told all the Muslims there, "Chant the holy name of Krishna! Chant the holy name of Krishna!" As they all began to chant, they were overwhelmed by ecstatic love. In this way Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu directly initiated the saintly Muslim by advising him to chant the holy name of Krishna.

The Muslim's name was changed to Ramadasa. Another Pathana Muslim present there was named Vijuli Khan. Vijuli Khan was very young, and he was the son of the king. All the other Muslims, or Pathanas, headed by Ramadasa, were his servants. Vijuli Khan also fell down at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and the Lord placed His foot on his head. After bestowing His mercy upon them in this way, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu left. All those Pathana Muslims then became mendicants. Later these very Pathanas became celebrated as the Pathana Vaishnavas. They toured all over the country and chanted the glorious activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Vijuli Khan became a greatly advanced devotee, and his importance was celebrated at every holy place of pilgrimage.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. (Online) Ch. 18, Verses 155 - 212. 4 Jul 2004. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. 12 August 2005. <http://vedabase.net/cc/madhya/18/en1>


Most notable in this encounter is Mahaprabhu's debate with the moulana. In the debate, the moulana tried to establish what is called the brahman feature of the Absolute Truth. Brahman is said to be existence, and consciousness of that existence. In this feature of the absolute the Lord is impersonal, all pervasive, and not in possession of any personality. At least as it is understood by scholars and followers of Mohammed, Islam can be said to be an impersonal religion. That they are forbidden to portray in pictures anyone they recognize as a prophet is a manifestation of this impersonalist tendency.

From a Vaishnava theological perspective, it is the impersonalist idea of God that results in a materialistic religion. The reason is simple: if God is impersonal, then He has no desires. Of course, Islam, like other religions, say that God has desires because He asks something of us, but because the idea of God is ultimately impersonal, beyond paying your "religion tax" by doing some namaz and killing some infidels, the center of satisfaction becomes the self. Persons have desires, non-persons do not. By most religious standards in the world's main religions, the reward of being able to enjoy 70-plus virgins for dying in jihad is quite paltry. In fact, any material reward is quite paltry, because being finite beings we have our limitations. And again, the emphasis of the reward is a carnal and selfish pleasure quite detached from any involvement with God at all in Paradise.

Indeed, we can say that the Islamic conception of Paradise is the kingdom of God without God; what does God do in His own abode that is of any significance? Surely it would involve non-interference with the post-martyrdom jihadist's enjoyment of 70-plus virgins. Clearly, the Islamic conception of religion is self-centered, not God centered, because pious life is motivated by sensual pleasure. This is not to say that many people throughout all of religious history have not performed religious acts for materialistic purposes, or have performed materialistic and violent acts in the name of religion. But when the core doctrines are defined by materialism and promoted by topmost religious authorities, then you have a necessary ingredient for the creation of a civilization wherein violence and envy are elevated to the level of virtue.

So Mahaprabhu's refutation of the moulana's exposition is significant in that Mahaprabhu proposed a higher conception of the Absolute Truth in which the pursuit of selfish-pleasure could never be considered a virtue. The personalist conception, wherein God is a person, presupposes a relationship between the servant and God, and pleasure itself is derived from selfless service. To the degree that the service is motivated for personal gain, there is no pleasure. And because all other living entities, including animals and plants, have a personal relationship with God, just as we have, violence against them becomes anathema since that would constitute envy of something else that is dear to God. Essentially, what Mahaprabhu in his exchange with the Pathans did was reestablish God, the person, in a Godless conception of Paradise.

What is important in this exchange between Mahaprabhu and the Pathans is the role theology and philosophy can play in changing people. A secondary role is etiquette, and a tertiary but not unimportant role is knowledge of the other's scripture. The Pathans could listen to Mahaprabhu's refutution of their ideas because they were respectful to Him, and it was also important that Mahaprabhu argued theology on the basis of the Koran. In developing a strategy to deal with the Question of Islam, theology and philosophy must play a significant role. The true conquest is cultural, and it will ultimately be the kind of religion and culture the descendants of Mohammed (and for that matter, ourselves) adopt in the future that will decide whether or not we live in a world without terror.

Preparing for the Monsoon?

On the other hand, it looks like the Catholic Church is hedging its bets on the resilliancy of European civilization. It looks like they are starting to save up for the next round of the Dark Ages:

Yet the new pontiff is also a man of great patience. He had gone to Subiaco to receive an award and to speak about Saint Benedict of Nurcia, who founded his monastic order there in the sixth century. Ratzinger has argued that in the bleak European landscape of faithlessness today, as in the Dark Ages, "the Church herself must form cells" to wait for the light—and work toward it for centuries—just as the Benedictines did.

Dickey, Christopher. "Near 'The Edge of the Abyss'." 15 Aug. 2005 edition. Newsweek (Online Edition). 11 Aug 2005. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8852854/site/newsweek/>

If the dark ages come to Europe, they will probably resemble in some ways the Moghul oppression India went through. If that happens, the bad news is that technology might help make a potential dark age considerably more darker. The good news is that it is possible to whether it, as India had done for centuries. Who knows--things might have to get worse before they get better. . .

Winning the War on Terrorism

A military conquest without a cultural conquest is no conquest. This is a strong indication of what will eventually allow the war on terror to succeed:

“Harry Potter is a popular title among some of the detainee population,” said the librarian, a civilian contractor identified only as “Lorie” who works at the prison camp for foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

Lorie said the popularity of the best-selling Harry Potter books, which recount the adventures of a boy wizard as he triumphs over the powers of evil, was matched only by the prisoners' passion for Agatha Christie, some of whose murder mysteries are set in the Middle East.

Reuters. "Harry Potter bewitches Gitmo prisoners." 10 Aug 2005 MSNBC.com 11 Aug 2005. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8894577/>


The military is just to hold them off long enough to get books in their hands. (Not Korans.) That's a big clue.

Indus Valley Rising - Introduction

This blog has been inspired by Baron Bodissey and Dymphna over at Gates of Vienna. After reading their blog for some time I became convinced that I need to become more active in the public discourse--especially with regard to the world's Muslim Question. Up until now my online blogging has been restricted to current events and social issues within ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, at Hare Krishna Cultural Journal. Although I am a long-time member of what to many in my American host-culture seems to be an avant-garde religion (and some might disparagingly refer to it is a cult), I am quite conservative in both my social and theological views, and so I naturally tend to identify on cultural issues with the more conservative (particularly neoconservative) counterparts in America and in Europe (if they still have any conservatives there). While my blog over at HKCJ is addressed to ISKCON insiders, this blog is addressed to the world and world issues, as seen through the lens of a confirmed Anglo-American, long-standing convert to Vaishnavism, a main branch of Hinduism.

I named this blog Indus Valley Rising because India is gradually becoming a world power. Of all the other civilizations that are rising in the World, I think it is in the best interests of the world--particularly the West as well as India, of course--that India prevails over others such as China to its East and Islam from its innards to the West. India retains an historical and linguistic kinship with Britain and the rest of the Anglosphere, so from a purely political and cultural point of view the rise of India as a super-power is in the best interests of the West. The West does not want China nor Islam to get substantially more powerful than they are. That will be a mutual disaster for both the West and India. In order to revive culture and peace in the world, the depopulating West is unlikely to do it without the help of a friendly civilization that has still retained the idea of a future worth creating. I believe that civilization to be centered within India, and that civilization is the Hindu civilization.

I think Western Civilization and Hindu Civilization can and should help each other, and I think there is more of a natural inclination between the Western peoples and the Indian peoples to this end. I further think that such cooperation might in the future prove to be essential to the survival of both civilizations. This web log is therefore created for the sake of presenting and discussing ideas for the preservation and upliftment of the sister Hindu and Western Civilizations, and along with them the upliftment of the world.

(Updated 14 Aug. 2005)