Category Archives: Society

Turkana Boy

What is the most dangerous product or idea exported from the US to the world? Foodies might say Big Mac and Coke! Rugby purists might say American Football! Health concious migh say their portion sizes! Fashion concious might say Paris Hilton!

While all these might be valid choices, I contend that one of the most dangerous exports from the US is evangelical Christianity. Not the entire spectrum of evangelical Christianity but a rather virulent and violent strain of it that unfortunately, like all mutated organisms is spreading fast. This particular form of Christianity insists on the Bible being the literal truth and instinctively opposes scientific enquiry. In the US, it manifests itself in the form of anti-abortion movememnt, anti-gay rights movement, anti-evolution movement, anti-stem cell movement and finally [tongue firmly in cheek] the anti-intelligence movement which marks the two time victory of the current US President as its ultimate success.

Now, this strain has reared its head in Africa. Here’s what’s going on:

Feb. 7, 2007 — Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya’s national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind’s oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm — one pitting scientists against Kenya’s powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism — once largely confined to the United States — has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

“I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it,” says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya’s 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. “These sorts of silly views are killing our faith.”

He’s calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room – along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Really Mr. Adoyo? Just one of a number of theories? Just like Mr. Bush never tires of saying that Global warming is merely one of a number of theories? Just like the theory that the confusing butterfly ballot and an openly partisan election board in Florida and Supreme Court lead to Mr. Bush’s “victory” in 2000?

These unreasonable and unscientific men have already done enough damage to scientific enquiry and this seems to be a worldwide phenomena. The worst aspect of fundamentalism in religion is not that it is fundamentalism, but that fundamentalism in one religion, specially in a well connected world like ours, encourages other religions to be even more fundamentalist. There have already been fears that the actions of hardcore evangelist Christians are fueling religious tensions in the middle east and other tinderboxes around the world. Africa, the cradle of civilization, with its vast illiterate and desperately poor population could soon become the next battleground between the two “revealed” religions.

Where is ACLU when you need them?

So if you are flying to Minneapolis, Minnesota – that beautiful city with that greatest monument to the American consumerism, the Mall of America and would be taking a cab from the airport and you are carrying wine with you then my advice to you is don’t! That is, either don’t fly to Minneapolis, or don’t take a cab or don’t carry wine or any other alcoholic drinks with you.

Why?

Because the Muslim cabbies serving the airport, and they form 33% of the cabbies there, will refuse you a ride if you are carrying alcohol. Now, where’s the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union ) when you really need them?

From a CNN story:

“This is America, we have freedom of religion,” says one cabbie. We could see their feelings are intense — that the issue seems to cut to the core of their identity.

“The Metropolitan Airport Commission is discriminating against us Muslim drivers,” says Abdulkaddir Adan, a Somalian-American who’s been driving a cab in the Twin Cities for two years.

Sure dude, this is America and that is why no one’s forcing you to be a cabbie. Go get yourself some other job rather than pushing your religion values on me. If every religion starts pushing its values on others, then there’d be no end to it. Going by the same rationale, why should devout pro-life Catholic pharmacists be punished when they refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control pills?

Thanksgiving: A uniquely American harvest festival

Harvest festivals are celebrated all over the world and Thanksgiving Day, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November is one of them. However, there is something special about the way this harvest festival is enjoyed in modern day US. While harvest festivals in other countries tend to take regional and religious tones (for example, Baisakhi and Onam in India), Thanksgiving remains a uniquely secular festival enjoyed by Americans of all ethnicities, color and religion. It has evolved from its origins of early settlers giving thanks for the bountiful harvest and freedom of religion to an occasion when families get together to eat and give thanks for the simple pleasures in life.

Of course, everything is not hunky dory from coast to coast on Thanksgiving day and this day is capable of evoking different emotions in different people. For some, it is a day to sit on the couch, drink some beer and watch a couple of football games on the TV, while for some, this is a day when they are stuck in traffic or at the airport making that yearly trip back home to their families while for some guys, this is a day when they would be running around trying to find an open grocery store just because the night before, the wife forgot to put that crucial ingredient to prepare that special Thanksgiving meal on the shopping list (yes, that happened to yours truly last year). Of course, in an ultimately ode to Capitalism in the land that almost worships the concept, for most Americans, this day is inexorably linked to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade and the early morning shopping deals the day after Thanksgiving. And then, for many native Americans, this day probably evokes mixed reactions. While on one hand, the entire country celebrates a tradition that started at the table of their ancestors and the first settlers, it is also linked to the tragedies and massacres they suffered at hands of the descendants of those very settlers.

Coming from a country that celebrates hundreds, if not thousands of festivals, I am always game to add a few new ones to my repertoire and I have taken to Thanksgiving like a fish takes to water (as Will Ferrell says in Anchorman, “When in Rome….”). Last year, we hit upon this brilliant idea that a bunch of Indians should dress up as, well, Indians on this day and the result was a lot of fun. While I don’t have any such plans for this year, I can’t wait to put an Indian spin (pun intended) on this uniquely American festival and contribute my own bit to this continually evolving tradition. I would love to know how other Desis visiting and reading this post plan to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Is Islam A Peaceful Religion?


Is Islam a peaceful religion? Is it a violent one? Does Quran teach violence? Does it teach love and peace? Are all Muslims violent? Are some of them violent while a majority of them just wants to live peaceful lives?

Questions like these and many more have been asked many times over, specially in the West and specially after the 9/11 attacks. President Bush has gone from emphasizing that Islam is a peaceful religion to using the term Islamo-fascists. So how do we make sense of what really is Islam? Or, for that matter, how do we make sense of any other religion? If we cannot answer this fundamental question, then we will never be able to answer the more obvious ones that I enumerate at the beginning.

To be able to answer that question, we first have to answer an even more basic question. Is religion a static entity, as defined in its holy books, or is it a living, breathing entity, as defined by the lives led by follower of that religion at a given period? I would assert that religion is a living, breathing entity as defined by the lives of its followers in the present. Going by that definition, one simply cannot assert or ask the question, “Is Islam a peaceful religion?” for that question is too absolute. The question that needs to be asked is, “Is Islam a peaceful religion today?”

If asking the right question was tricky, answering it is bound to be more so. What criterion does one use to quantify one’s answer? Should we find out the ratio of violent verses to non-violent verses in Quran? Should we find out the ratio of violent Muslims to non-violent Muslims (this criterion is often used when people assert that there are “millions of Muslims practicing their religion peacefully”)?
I think the answer can be found in one of the very basic observations that Mahatma Gandhi made about human nature – that if you want to find out the true nature of a person, find out how he treats a weaker person. Let us apply that simple test to present day Islam. We can say that Muslims are in “strength”, that is able to dictate political, social and religious decisions in countries or regions where they are in majority. Of course, in certain instances, they might be able to dictate terms even in regions where they are in minority but for now, we can simply focus on Muslim majority regions. Let us think of Muslim majority regions and nations like the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, certain regions of Africa and Indonesia and see how the “weaker party” that is, non-Muslims have been treated in those regions? Is there freedom of religion? Is there freedom of speech? Can you openly practice your faith? What about civil laws?

In a nutshell, what kind of society have Muslims created in places where they had the power to create the kind of societies that they wanted to create?

Now compare those societies with the societies created by Christian majority states, like those of the Western Europe or in the US. Or the society created by the Hindu majority state of India.

There, you’ve answered the question that “Is Islam a peaceful religion today?” The real violence committed in the name of Islam was not committed when those planes hit the twin towers, not even when those bombs went off in the streets of London or in the trains of Mumbai. The real violence in the name of Islam is committed every single day in those Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia where you cannot freely practice any other religion, cannot have a free civic discourse and cannot have basic human rights. That is the real Islamic terrorism, Islamo-fascism or whatever other term that you fancy. The people ramming those planes into the twin towers were only the end result of that terrorism.

The Lean Mean Fighting Machine aka The Human Race

Here is a reality check for all you guys who hold candles at the Wagah border, send out emails containing messages of peace and communal harmony, roam around wearing peace tattoos or peace pendants, lie naked in the bed promoting peace or wistfully sing “give peace a chance”. Peace never really had a chance, never did and it seems highly likely that it never will.

You could blame religion, region, nationalism, caste or race but like a water gushing out of a broken dyke, violence will find a way and a reason to break it and flood the plains, no matter how many hands you stick into the dyke. Why? Because human beings are not conditioned for peace – whether by evolution or by design (and you call it intelligent?).

You say that religion is the reason for all the violence? Then explain Shia on Sunni (or vice-versa) violence in Iraq and Pakistan.

You say that race or region is the reason for violence? Then explain the countless wars fought between people belonging to the same race and regions.

The bottom line is that as human beings, we always strive to find what separates and divides us and not what joins us – so Muslims will fight Hindus and if you wipe out all Hindus, then Shias will fight with Sunnis. Eliminate all Shias and you’d be surprised how fast Sunnis start fighting amongst themselves. That great defender of Hindus, Bal Thackerey did not think twice before attacking all those Hindus from South India and of course, the regional feuds between states in the South of India is nothing to sneeze at. Christians have been having a mighty go at each other since centuries, stopping only for short periods of time when they have a bigger pagan to fight.

You might find it depressing but the first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that it exists and realize the true cause behind the problem. By creating these red herrings of religion, region etc., we side track the real problem and start day dreaming. If only there were no religions, if only there were no national boundaries, if only the US would stop its arrogant hegemony, if only we could have democracy in the middle east, if only Israel would relinquish some land in the middle east.

Maybe there is no solution to this problem, this is how it has always been and this is how it always be. Sometimes a few reasonable people like Gandhi, King and Mandela come along and instill a short term rationality amongst their people but the operative term here is short term and in short order, we are back to our true selves.