Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Islamic Jihad: Educating and Spreading the Word

Radical Islam is a threat to peace and to civilization wherever it exists. Yet it appears there is a significant class of people who refuse to acknowledge this. We all have our own social networks, our own communities, and we can work most effectively within those. With regard to my own social network (please see the introduction to this blog for further background), some of our top people have posted an article on an official site that could unwittingly augment the threat from radical Islam. This was my response, which has so far been posted anonymously within the internal email channels of my social network:
This evening via email I received a message telling me about an article titled "A Distant View of 9/11," written by a devotee. That the article appears on krishna.com is notable. As far as I am aware, krishna.com is an official ISKCON project, or close enough to being one. It is not one of these websites with a disclaimer that says, "The articles published here do not necessarily represent the views of ISKCON." Considering where the article is posted, I wonder if the article somewhat reflects ISKCON's official view of the war between the West and Islam, or whether this is a harbinger of a coming ISKCON policy statement that sounds something like this article. These two possibilities worry me, and I would like to explain why.

Although the author states that he is wary of conspiracy theories, fundamentally it is a conspiracy theory he promotes. His conspiracy theory is an old and tired one at that. Anyone who is not in ISKCON and also hasn't spent the last four years in a sensory deprevation tank knows this conspiracy theory well: "Blood for Oil." The article, "A Distant View of 9/11," is perhaps more aptly named than the author intended, because if the author had been more in touch with both the old media and new media of the Internet, he might also have known that "Blood for Oil" conspiracy theories are isomorphic forms of theories embodied by slogans like "Support for Saddam." You know, Saddam Hussain? He's the one responsible for having prisoners thrown feet first into wood chippers; who tortured and killed women by having them hung upside down during their menstral periods so that their menses would stay in their bodies, ferment, and poison them; who was responsible for the slaughter tens of thousands of his own countrymen by heavy weapons and by poison gas--burying them in mass graves of the kind not seen since since tyrants like Pol Pot. You know who I'm talking about, right? Saddam and others of his ilk are the kind of people Prahlada Maharaja had in mind when he said "even saintly persons take pleasure in the killing of a scorpion or a snake." Saddam H. is just one, Osama Bin Laden is another. America and Europe say OBL downed the WTC towers, the Middle East says he did it. Heck, even OBL says he did it. Maybe OBL is a CIA mole? The conspiracy theories get weirder all the time.

There really is such a thing as a good war, and even good wars can be criticized by doubting motivations. Merely doubting motives, however, doesn't prove anything. It just means you think the other person has ill motives. The Pandavas' war on the Kauravas, although dharmic, could be recast as "Blood for Land", or "Lust for Power", or whatever other ill motive we can dream up. How about this one: "Blood for Cotton"? It would work well as a conspiracy theory for the American North's war against the South in the American Civil War. In fact, that's what some American Southerners said about the North's motives (as did some in the North). The war was over slavery--make no mistake about that. Yet no matter how good a cause might be, ill motives can always be ascribed to the persons going to war. Although some wars the U.S. has been involved in have been motivated by less than honorable motives, not all have been ill motivated. What dark ulterior motive could we ascribe to the United States's struggle against Nazi Germany and to save the Jews? And then how would we explain the more than charitable Marshal plan for the reconstruction of Germany? Ditto for the reconstruction of Japan.

Finally, if ISKCON is going to make foreign policy statements (and putting something like "A Distant View" on Krishna.com comes close), then I think a little more thought needs to go into figuring out where ISKCON stands in all of this, starting with what it stands to win or lose. What might happen if the West falls? How might that affect ISKCON? In this scenario, Europe more or less becomes an Islamic population and America loses its dominance as an economic, scientific, and military leader. It probably wouldn't be a good thing for India. India has endured for centuries Islamic invaders who happily plundered and slaughtered innocent Hindus, destroyed their temples, built mosques on the foundations of the temples they destroyed, and systematically oppressed the surviviors who would still not become Muslims. There is a mosque sitting right on top of the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, where a temple to Lord Sri Krishna once stood. Let that sink in for a minute, and then think of all the hundreds and thousands of temples destroyed by Muslim invaders. And now think about how Pakistan, with Chinese assistance, developed a nuclear arsenal (to be used against "you know who"), and then also consider that both Pakistan and China have fought wars with India over its sovereign territory.

India has much to protect that is worthy of protection. Whatever the West may be, it would be in the interests of both the West and India to ally themselves against a demonstrably hostile Sino-Islamic alliance. One of the things India protects is the source of our cultural and religious heritage. Since ISKCON has a personal stake in seeing that India's territorial and cultural integrity be maintained, ISKCON also needs to lend whatever encouragement and guidance (we *are* brahmanas, right?) to those who would protect our heritage. Protecting the dhamas, the Deities, and religious culture is not a material endeavor. But if ISKCON makes policy statements that directly or indirectly support those who would destroy all that we stand for, or if ISKCON's body politic unofficially sides with those who wouldn't mind seeing devotees dead, then we might get what we deserve--up to and including annihilation.

Although ISKCON is not in the business of diplomacy and war, out of necessiity ISKCON could become an important player in the containment and destruction of Islam. Necessity would mean that ISKCON could lose an awful lot, if not itself, if it chose not to act. In the face of global Islamic Jihad, that is a possibility we have to consider. It took an alliance between the United States and the Roman Catholic Church to finally bring down the Soviet State. It may also be the case that a similar alliance of both material and spiritual resources between the West and India will be needed to reign in Islam once and for all. But then on the other hand, things may have to get worse before they get better. Perhaps Europe has to become Eurabia, and perhaps America has to get nuked into insignificance. Perhaps India has to yet again be overrun by foreign invaders, who have neither love nor sympathy for Krishna consciousness. The Muslim invaders who ruled India around the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not have weapons of mass destruction. If Aurangzeb had nukes, poison gas, and biological weapons like we have today, what do you think he would have done with them?

The world situation is such that even if we do not want to be involved in the nasty business of politics and war, for the sake of survival we might have to be involved anyway. That means being prepared, and the first step is to think a little more carefully about ISKCON's foreign policy.
If anyone wants to write the editors of the Krishna.com site, I encourage you to do so, as it might help them see things from a different perspective. If you do, please post your letter in the comments here, or send it to me at krishna_kirti@hotmail.com and I will post it anonymously.

p.s. I will be going on vacation and won't be back until Teusday or Wednesday of next week. I will post lots of good stuff when I return.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hindu and Muslim Oragnaizations Donate to Katrina Relief Funds

Over at Rediff.com is mention of the The National Federation of Indian American Associations raising funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina:
"We cannot sit and do nothing," said Radha Krishnan, the president-elect of the NFIAA. "People have no homes left, no electricity and no drinking water. The Red Cross and other agencies helping the victims are running out of funds. We need to help these agencies."
And so is the Islamic Society of North America:
[U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen] Hughes thanked ISNA for starting a special fund to help the victims of hurricane Katrina and making an initial donation of $20,000 from its own resources. After September 2 Friday prayers, ISNA announced that it had collected $2 million, with additional contributions expected.

"Muslim Americans must come forward and assist their fellow Americans in this time of need," said Sayyid M. Syeed, secretary general of ISNA.
UPDATE: The American Atheists are also raising funds for hurricane relief, but I don't see any figures for how much they have raised so far. They don't strike me as being a well-monied group, but any effort is appreciated.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Multiculturalism Divides, not Unites

Multiculturalism promotes a social identity based on difference, not likeness, and consequently divides people instead of uniting them. Compare religious sentiment with multiculturalist sentiment:

"I thought we were going to die out there," Bernadette Washington said. "We had to sleep on the ground. Use the bathroom in front of each other. Laying on that ground, I just couldn't take it. I felt like Job."

Then, somehow, a bus, and then Baton Rouge. At that moment, a lady — white — came by the rest stop and handed her some baby items.

"Bless you," Washington said.

That exchange forced something from Warren Carter: "White man came up to me little while ago and offered me some money. I said thank you, but no thanks. I got money to hold us over. But it does go to show you that racism ain't everywhere."

(Haygood, Wil. "'It just seems like black people are marked.'" 2 Sep 2005. The Washington Post. 2 Sep 2005. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9166350/>)

The reaction of the black lady, who appeared to frame her experiences through Biblical pastimes, differed markedly from the reaction of the black man, who appeared to frame his experiences in "us / them" terms. The white woman got a blessing, but the white man was identified as not a racist. Not being against someone does not necessarily mean you like him--offers of help not withstanding. Not being friends, even if you are not enemies, does not make for a stable and lasting peace.

Liking, however, requires that we identify "something" we cherish that is also fundamental and common to ourselves and to others. Religion has provided that "something," an identity--a conception of the self and of others--that transcendes differences inherent in bodies, cultures, families, and racial histories. Multiculturalism, however, cannot move us to the stage of liking the other, because liking is a matter of discovering fundamental simiarities between ourselves, and multiculturalism moves away from likenesses toward differences.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Talavan Post-Hurricane Pictures

These are pictures around the Hare Krishna's New Talavan farm community, post Hurricane Katrina. An earlier report mentioned that the eye of the hurricane came within 10 miles of the farm. Also, as a side note, durring the hurricane the cows there continued to graze.

More later.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Industry, Redundancy, and Coping with Hurricane Katrina

It looks like fully industrialized societies may not be much of an improvement over societies that have not fully industrialized. In engineering (mechanical, software, etc.), when critical services that other system services depend on are concentrated in a single component or single center or operation, if that component or service fails the rest of the system goes down with it. That is called a "single point of failure." Systems that have multiple failover mechanisms and redundant components are, however, considered more reliable because if one or more components go down, then the other redundant components for a time can assume the extra load. The system is strained, but it doesn't go down. The cost of redundancy is high, but the cost of system failure is higher--even if it rarely happens. Like any other system that depends on highly specialized components but lacks redundancy, a highly industrialized society is similarly fragile because critical services become concentrated with a small number of people or agencies. If small but important social components fail on account of sabotage or disaster, the effect on the rest of society can be disproportionately catastrophic.

America, which is known as "the bread basket of the world," has an especially vulnerable food supply. The seeming benefit of the industrialized food supply is that it allows fewer people to produce considerably more food. America produces so much food that to keep food prices high enough, the government has to offer subsidies to farmers to not grow food or just dump grains in the ocean. The down-side of America's industrialized food supply is that, because food production is concentrated in the hands of a few (and we aren't talking of storage systems that largely depend on the availability of transportation and electricity), the system has little scope for failover. This is true of many other essential components of society, but the food supply is perhaps the most obvious failure-prone component.

The recent disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina has highlighted this fragility in the American social system. The national response to the disaster has been heroic, commendable, will save many lives and will eventually restore order. In the mean time, however, there has been considerable disorder. Reports of hundreds, perhaps thousands dead in New Orleans and in Mississippi, the widespread looting in the aftermath, a breakdown of law enforcement, and the inability to quickly mend the destruction wreaked by nature reminded me of news reports we often hear of when typhoons hit places like India or Bangladesh. Even since 9/11, America is not a place that we expect hundreds and thousands of people to perish in cataclysmic mass destruction--whether natural or man-made.

The environment, the economy, and the geopolitical situation are all changing, and with these changes the kind of society we build may affect our future chances of survival. If means of production, especially that of food, is a critical component of any social system, which will be the better long-term social strategy to implement:
  • globalization with its potential for higher efficiency and higher profits but increased dependency on services and products from foreign lands, or
  • localized production that is redundant and therefore more robust but less efficient and less profitable?
A localized means of production might be better suited to withstanding environmental threats like the Hurricane Katrina disaster or, more increasingly, disasters that could be wreaked by foreign enemies. These are things for which we shouldn't be caught unprepared. Scaling down American commercial farm enterprises and encouraging small farmers who relied less on industrialized means of farming could be in the interest of America's national security. Right now the chemical industry, the machinery industry, and food production are all tightly coupled. Loosening the couplings between these subsystems, which means making them less interdependent, would make for a more robust social system that could better withstand a catastrophy.

To put a personal face on all this socio-economic / systemic theory, there is the untold story of how two small, unnoticed Hare Krishna temple and farm communities in New Orleans and Mississippi are coping with the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The Hare Krishna devotees at the farm community, who seem to be doing better than some of their neighbors, are providing a helping hand. This is a letter sent from the Hare Krishna farm community near Carriere, Mississippi. (The name of the farm community is New Talavan):



[email dated 31 August 2005 from Yogindra Vandana das Adhikary]
Dear Maharajas, GBCs, Temple Presidents, Web & Magazine Editors and Devotees,

Hare Krsna! Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

The power of the Lord's external energy is inconceivable. How one storm can destroy the social structure of an area ranging from 50 miles west of New Orleans all the way to Mobile, Alabama is stunning. In Mississippi, everything from Jackson on south is devastated. There are no commerce, transportation or other normal activities going on.

Despite our good fortune to have our temples in both New Orleans and New Talavan emerge relatively unscathed, the harsh reality is that there is no functioning society around us. The devotees in New Orleans are virtually trapped. Although they have supplies, there is no power, running water or cooking gas. The sanitation system is nonexistent. There is no water pressure in case of a fire, and water is till rising in the city from a 500-foot break in the river levee. This just came in this morning's news [only approximate link could be ascertained]:
NEW ORLEANS - The governor of Louisiana says everyone needs to leave New Orleans due to flooding from Hurricane Katrina. "We've sent buses in. We will be either loading them by boat, helicopter, anything that is necessary," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. Army engineers struggled without success to plug New Orleans' breached levees with sandbags, and Blanco said Wednesday the situation was worsening, leaving no choice but to evacuate.

"The challenge is an engineering nightmare," Blanco said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "The National Guard has been dropping sandbags into it, but it's like dropping it into a black hole."

As the waters continued to rise in New Orleans, four Navy ships raced toward the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other emergency supplies, and Red Cross workers from across the country converged on the devastated region. The Red Cross reported it had about 40,000 people in 200 shelters across the area in one of the biggest urban disasters the nation has ever seen.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone, while Louisiana put aside the counting of the dead to concentrate on rescuing the living, many of whom were still trapped on rooftops and in attics.

A full day after the city thought it had escaped Katrina's full fury, two levees broke and spilled water into the streets of New Orleans on Tuesday, swamping an estimated 80 percent of the bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city, inundating miles and miles of homes and rendering much of New Orleans uninhabitable for weeks or months.

"We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said on ABC's "Good Morning America, "and the other issue that's concerning me is have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue."
Perhaps when civil and governmental authorities find the New Orleans devotees, they will ship them to New Talavan or engage them in cooking and serving meals to the other storm refugees. If anyone reading this has the ability to communicate by phone, please inform the New Orleans emergency authorities that there are at least 15 Hare Krsna devotees, including the devotees hurt in the recent accident, in urgent need of evacuation at 2936 Esplanade Ave., and if possible they need to get to New Talavan in Carriere, Mississippi, where our community can care for them.

New Talavan is a different situation. Although we have well water, LP cooking gas and some bhoga [food that can be cooked or eaten], supplies such as LP gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, dahl, rice, oats, cash etc. are running low and need to be rationed. There is no phone service, and the electricity will be out for at least two months. If we don't start our own massive cleanup operation, it will be months before the local government can clear the county roads. The devotees have already cleared the roads on the farm itself, but we are still cut off from the surrounding area.

Our need and request is to please contact FEMA administrators (601 960-9999) and the Red Cross (800 GET-HELP). Inform them about our community in NW Hancock County, north of Leetown at 31492 Anner Road, We are providing water and meals for locals and 23 devotees on the temple property. If they can supply us with LP gas, rice, oats, beans, corn, canned tomatoes, butter and sugar, gasoline and diesel fuel to run our generator, etc., we can supply meals to many people from the surrounding community.

It is stunning and shocking to have your entire social system stripped down naked. There are some here who have lost their mental equilibrium, perhaps the greatest danger of such a disaster. All of our books distributors and Food for Life collectors worked the New Orleans tourist district, which is under water and will not reopen for months. We cannot even send or receive mail, which was another important source of income. All the banks and ATMs are closed and inoperative. Thus the only for us to receive funds is electronically. If you read this and want to send a donation, the only way at present is through PayPal.com. At least we can collect donations now and use them to purchase things online as soon as the postal system is functional again. The email addresses for dominations are adoptacow@newtalavana.org for New Talavan, and devotee_relief@iskcon-nola.us for the New Orleans devotees.

For the time being, our schedule revolves around the sun coming up and going down. We have altered our sadhana and Deity schedules to accommodate the lack of lighting and water. Mangal-arati will continue to be at 4:30 but we are offering only burfy and milk. Afterwards, the devotees just chant japa. At sunup around 7 AM, the devotees can bathe and dress the Deities. Then we cook and offer breakfast around 10 AM. Then again around 3 PM we can cook and offer about 6 PM, have arati, class and distribute prasadam. The daily temperatures are still in the 90s, so the devotees welcome and relish the cool mornings and evenings.

Please send us your prayers and let's not forget the two seriously injured boys in the ICU in El Paso. Lalita-pranesvara Prabhu is there alone caring for them. His cell phone number is 504 638-4874. Please call him, since we cannot, and inspire him to continue his difficult service.

Although we are down, we are far from out; so with your prayers and blessings we will be back stronger than ever. Hoping this finds y'all relishing the mercy of Guru and Gauranga,

your servant,

Yogindra Vandana das Adhikari

_____


ISKCON New Talavan Community
Founder-Acharya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Temple President: His Grace Yogindra Vandana das Adhikari
31492 Anner Rd. Carriere MS 39426 601 749-9460
http://www.newtalavana.org

Please always chant:

Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare



The one part in the letter above that really struck me was this: "It is stunning and shocking to have your entire social system stripped down naked. There are some here who have lost their mental equilibrium, perhaps the greatest danger of such a disaster." That's what prompted me to open this post with some discussion on what makes systems robust or failure-prone. The farm community at New Talavan has tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, though it still relies somewhat on modern amenities like LP gas, electricity, and email. My wife visited New Orleans several months ago and also visited the temple farm communities there. (We live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.) She brought back with her some whole-wheat flour grown and milled on the New Talavan farm. We still have some of the flour, and from time-to-time we bake bread with it. Because the New Talavan community was a little self-sufficient, it appears they were in a better position to help soften the blow of the disaster than were some of their neighbors. I also felt this fact was relevant to wider social issues, which is why I brought them up at the beginning of this post.

The Hare Krishna community in Carriere, Mississippi will greatfully accept donations in cash or in kind and will put them to good use for the surrounding community immediately. If you donate or send help their way, please also mention this weblog (Indus Valley Rising) referred you.