Posts Tagged ‘religion’

RIGHTS-EGYPT: Invoking Religion Against Liberals

October 20, 2009

By Cam McGrath, Inter Press Service News

CAIRO, Oct 19 (IPS) – Self-appointed guardians of public morality are invoking an ancient instrument of Islamic jurisprudence against those whose ideas they deem immoral or heretical – or simply to gain fame.

“We are concerned about the huge rise in the number of hisba cases in recent years,” says Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Hisba is a lawsuit filed by an individual who volunteers to defend society from anyone whose words or deeds he considers harmful to Islam. Introduced to Egypt in the eighth century, this obscure legal instrument empowers Muslims to hold their fellow citizens, and even the state, accountable for upholding religious virtue.

Continues >>

Jimmy Carter: The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

July 12, 2009

Discrimination and abuse wrongly backed by doctrine are damaging society, argues the former US president

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status …” (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when th e convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Continued >>

War Is Sin

June 2, 2009

by Chris Hedges |, June 1, 2009

The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight.

Those who return to speak this truth, such as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, are our contemporary prophets. But like all prophets they are condemned and ignored for their courage. They struggle, in a culture awash in lies, to tell what few have the fortitude to digest. They know that what we are taught in school, in worship, by the press, through the entertainment industry and at home, that the melding of the state’s rhetoric with the rhetoric of religion, is empty and false.

The words these prophets speak are painful. We, as a nation, prefer to listen to those who speak from the patriotic script. We prefer to hear ourselves exalted. If veterans speak of terrible wounds visible and invisible, of lies told to make them kill, of evil committed in our name, we fill our ears with wax. Not our boys, we say, not them, bred in our homes, endowed with goodness and decency. For if it is easy for them to murder, what about us? And so it is simpler and more comfortable not to hear. We do not listen to the angry words that cascade forth from their lips, wishing only that they would calm down, be reasonable, get some help, and go away. We, the deformed, brand our prophets as madmen. We cast them into the desert. And this is why so many veterans are estranged and enraged. This is why so many succumb to suicide or addictions.

War comes wrapped in patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory. It comes wrapped in the claims of divine providence. It is what a grateful nation asks of its children. It is what is right and just. It is waged to make the nation and the world a better place, to cleanse evil. War is touted as the ultimate test of manhood, where the young can find out what they are made of. War, from a distance, seems noble. It gives us comrades and power and a chance to play a small bit in the great drama of history. It promises to give us an identity as a warrior, a patriot, as long as we go along with the myth, the one the war-makers need to wage wars and the defense contractors need to increase their profits.

But up close war is a soulless void. War is about barbarity, perversion and pain, an unchecked orgy of death. Human decency and tenderness are crushed. Those who make war work overtime to reduce love to smut, and all human beings become objects, pawns to use or kill. The noise, the stench, the fear, the scenes of eviscerated bodies and bloated corpses, the cries of the wounded, all combine to spin those in combat into another universe. In this moral void, naively blessed by secular and religious institutions at home, the hypocrisy of our social conventions, our strict adherence to moral precepts, come unglued. War, for all its horror, has the power to strip away the trivial and the banal, the empty chatter and foolish obsessions that fill our days. It lets us see, although the cost is tremendous.

The Rev. William P. Mahedy, who was a Catholic chaplain in Vietnam, tells of a soldier, a former altar boy, in his book “Out of the Night: The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets,” who says to him: “Hey, Chaplain … how come it’s a sin to hop into bed with a mama-san but it’s okay to blow away gooks out in the bush?”

“Consider the question that he and I were forced to confront on that day in a jungle clearing,” Mahedy writes. “How is it that a Christian can, with a clear conscience, spend a year in a war zone killing people and yet place his soul in jeopardy by spending a few minutes with a prostitute? If the New Testament prohibitions of sexual misconduct are to be stringently interpreted, why, then, are Jesus’ injunctions against violence not binding in the same way? In other words, what does the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ really mean?”

Military chaplains, a majority of whom are evangelical Christians, defend the life of the unborn, tout America as a Christian nation and eagerly bless the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as holy crusades. The hollowness of their morality, the staggering disconnect between the values they claim to promote, is ripped open in war.

There is a difference between killing someone who is trying to kill you and taking the life of someone who does not have the power to harm you. The first is killing. The second is murder. But in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the enemy is elusive and rarely seen, murder occurs far more often than killing. Families are massacred in airstrikes. Children are gunned down in blistering suppressing fire laid down in neighborhoods after an improvised explosive device goes off near a convoy. Artillery shells obliterate homes. And no one stops to look. The dead and maimed are left behind.

The utter failure of nearly all our religious institutions-whose texts are unequivocal about murder-to address the essence of war has rendered them useless. These institutions have little or nothing to say in wartime because the god they worship is a false god, one that promises victory to those who obey the law and believe in the manifest destiny of the nation.

We all have the capacity to commit evil. It takes little to unleash it. For those of us who have been to war this is the awful knowledge that is hardest to digest, the knowledge that the line between the victims and the victimizers is razor-thin, that human beings find a perverse delight in destruction and death, and that few can resist the pull. At best, most of us become silent accomplices.

Wars may have to be fought to ensure survival, but they are always tragic. They always bring to the surface the worst elements of any society, those who have a penchant for violence and a lust for absolute power. They turn the moral order upside down. It was the criminal class that first organized the defense of Sarajevo. When these goons were not manning roadblocks to hold off the besieging Bosnian Serb army they were looting, raping and killing the Serb residents in the city. And those politicians who speak of war as an instrument of power, those who wage war but do not know its reality, those powerful statesmen-the Henry Kissingers, Robert McNamaras, Donald Rumsfelds, the Dick Cheneys-those who treat war as part of the great game of nations, are as amoral as the religious stooges who assist them. And when the wars are over what they have to say to us in their thick memoirs about war is also hollow, vacant and useless.

“In theological terms, war is sin,” writes Mahedy. “This has nothing to do with whether a particular war is justified or whether isolated incidents in a soldier’s war were right or wrong. The point is that war as a human enterprise is a matter of sin. It is a form of hatred for one’s fellow human beings. It produces alienation from others and nihilism, and it ultimately represents a turning away from God.”

The young soldiers and Marines do not plan or organize the war. They do not seek to justify it or explain its causes. They are taught to believe. The symbols of the nation and religion are interwoven. The will of God becomes the will of the nation. This trust is forever shattered for many in war. Soldiers in combat see the myth used to send them to war implode. They see that war is not clean or neat or noble, but venal and frightening. They see into war’s essence, which is death.

War is always about betrayal. It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians. Society’s institutions, including our religious institutions, which mold us into compliant citizens, are unmasked. This betrayal is so deep that many never find their way back to faith in the nation or in any god. They nurse a self-destructive anger and resentment, understandable and justified, but also crippling. Ask a combat veteran struggling to piece his or her life together about God and watch the raw vitriol and pain pour out. They have seen into the corrupt heart of America, into the emptiness of its most sacred institutions, into our staggering hypocrisy, and those of us who refuse to heed their words become complicit in the evil they denounce.

© 2009

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.

Christian Soldiers in Afghanistan

May 30, 2009

by Valerie Elverton Dixon |, May 30, 2009

William Faulkner once said: “The past is not dead.  In fact, it’s not even past.”  We often think about time and history as a straight line leading from the past, running through the present, heading into the future. With this conceptualization, the past is past and gone.  However, there is another way to think about time.  Tree time.  When we cut down a tree, the rings of the stump are concentric circles of time. The first year exists at the center and each succeeding year surrounds it.

So it is with the meeting of Christianity and Islam on the battle fields of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The historical center of the present conflict is the history of the Crusades.  Many in the Muslim world consider the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as another Crusade.  The Crusades were wars between Christians and Muslims, Christians and Pagans, Christians and Christians over four centuries.  It was a tragic time when armies of the state fought to promote a religious cause.  Crusaders travelled far from home as warriors and pilgrims, warriors and penitents, warriors as walls to stall the spread of Islam.  They won and lost battles.  They destroyed and plundered and raped. They were sometimes brutally massacred when the Muslims won on a particular day.

This historical core has not passed from the consciousness of some observers.  Enter the U.S. military.  The military is full of Christians.  Many of these men and women consider themselves as fundamentalist and evangelical.  An important part of their religious commitment is to witness to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and to win souls to Christ.  At the same time, the U.S. military has a strict rule against proselytizing.  And so the warriors must walk a fine line between obligations to faith and country.

However, in my opinion, at least one soldier has been unfairly characterized in this discussion.  From what I can tell from the four minute video of a group of Christian soldiers in Afghanistan, army chaplain Captain Emmitt Furner gave them sound advice.  He reminded them of the army regulation and he reminded them that to witness to and for Jesus was more a walk than a talk. It is what we as Christians do that is important.  He said:  “You share the word in a smart manner: love, respect, consideration for their culture and their religion.  That’s what a Christian does is appreciation for other human beings.”  Another soldier in the group spoke of love and respect for the people they meet.

Some observers see Captain Furner’s advice as a sly way to spread the gospel, an element of a 21st century Crusade.  In my opinion, this interpretation is incorrect.  He gave his fellow soldiers the instruction to be living epistles that can be known and read by all (2 Corinthians 3:2).  It is an instruction that we who are not on the front lines in Afghanistan and in Iraq can use.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

Does Pakistan need more religion?

April 25, 2009

Babar Sattar | The News International, Saturday, April 25, 2009

An assumption underlying the debate over our sprawling Talibanisation has been that enforcement of Sharia is a good thing, just not the Taliban brand of Sharia. But how can we know whether a majority of Pakistanis want Sharia to be “enforced” upon them when we have never had a candid debate on the role of religion in this country?

As a state and a society we have put in place a coercive environment where it is heretical to question any social, political or economic agenda articulated in the name of Islam. Our self-enforced inhibition to debate the role of religion in defining the relationship between the citizen and the state in Pakistan is not only breeding and reinforcing religious intolerance in the country but has created an environment where any political agenda camouflaged as a programme for enforcement of Sharia automatically acquires prima facie legitimacy without any scrutiny of the merits of such agenda or its Islamic credentials.

Sufi Mohammed and other semi-literates who support armed jihad, wear a beard and possess a bully pulpit, have arrogated to themselves the divine right to speak in the name of God. These self-styled guardians of Islam have no qualms about openly declaring that anyone opposed to their political agenda is a “fasid,” “mushrik” or “kafir” who automatically stands ousted from the realm of Islam and is liable to be killed. Even when Sufi Mohammed declared that the MQM was a heretical party and our Parliament and judicature constituted an un-Islamic system, our prime minister and other parliamentarians refused to respond to such “personal opinion” of the new emir of Swat.

The elites in Pakistan and mainstream political parties have shown a tendency not to engage in religious discourse. No one wishes to get on the wrong side of the maulvi, who might be an underdog in terms of our societal power dynamics but has accumulated considerable nuisance value over the decades. There has been no focus in Pakistan on the education and training of the maulvi, who is generally drawn from the more deprived sections of the society and drifts towards madrasa or mosque in seeking a full-time vocation in the absence of any alternative prospect of upward professional or social mobility. And yet he has access to the podium in the mosque and the ability to influence the thinking of those who pray behind him, as his legitimacy is a consequence of his position in the mosque, and not derived from his credentials as a scholar of Sharia or Fiqh.

There is religious discourse in the country. But the Parliament or the more educated and progressive sections of the society are neither defining the contours of this discourse nor engaging with it. The consequence is the proliferation of a brand of faith that is seen as being retrogressive and cruel, and that huge sections of the society do not own up or relate to. The village maulvi has been offering half-baked solutions to the complex problems afflicting Pakistan for decades. The Taliban are now doing the same, except that they have also acquired control and monopoly over means of coercion in many parts of Pakistan and thus have the ability to implement their obscurantist agenda. Instead of proposing solutions inspired by Islamic values to the myriad problems of a complex society the Taliban are determined to slap the rest of their compatriots to an ancient time and create a medieval society that simply doesn’t have complex problems.

The crude concept of penal justice and social justice that the Taliban are marketing could be appealing to some deprived, disempowered and disgruntled sections of the society that have lost faith in the ability and will of the state to protect and promote their interests. But the problems that we confront today are the products of a moth-eaten dysfunctional system of governance and not the lack of piety or religion in the country. Forcing people to pray publicly, bullying men into wearing a beard and tying the “shalwar” higher than is customary, and shrouding or shunning women to their homes and excluding them from public life will not make our problems go away. Even assuming for a minute that the freedom and liberty that many value within the society is overrated, what is it that enforcement of some new Sharia system will enable us to do and how is our present constitutional system holding us back?

Over 96 percent of the citizens of Pakistan are Muslims. Some abide by a maximal view of religion and wish to be informed by the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah in performing each and every act in their daily lives. Some follow a minimalist view and while following the mandatory injunctions of Islam they believe to have been endowed with choices and discretion to order their lives. Some acknowledge the mandatory nature of various injunctions of Islam, but lack the discipline or the will to comply with such injunctions. Many are confused about the role religion should play in their public lives and still others are convinced that religion is a private matter between the person and his Creator and has no role in dictating public choices that a community makes as a collectivity. How, then, do we conclude so readily that a majority of the citizens of Pakistan wish Sharia to be “enforced” in the country?

The question of Sharia enforcement must be distinguished from the debate on whether or not Pakistan should be a secular state–i.e., one where the state is legally separated from religion and maintaining a neutral position neither promotes nor prohibits religion. The question being posed here is whether we should be a Muslim nation-state or endeavour to become an Islamic state. We are presently a Muslim nation-state simply by virtue of the fact that our overwhelming majority is Muslim. Islamic rituals and Sharia is already a part of Muslim households, with birth, death, marriage, divorce and inheritance being dealt with in Islamic tradition together with varied compliance with other rituals of Islam. We have a Constitution that states that Islam is the religion of the state and that Muslims shall be “enabled” to order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam.

We have constitutionally created the Council of Islamic Ideology comprising celebrated religious scholars of the country to advise the executive and the legislature on whether any laws are repugnant to Islam. We have a Federal Shariat Court that adjudicates issues that deal with or require enforcement of Islamic law and we have a Shariat Bench as part of our Supreme Court to sit in appeal over decisions of the Federal Shariat Court. Thus, we would have been a Muslim nation-state if we didn’t have institutionalised arrangements to formally incorporate Islamic edicts within our law and jurisprudence. But as an Islamic state we have acquiesced in a minimalist view of religion, whereby any law or ruling repugnant to Islam is to be struck down; but in areas where there is no binding Islamic edict, representatives of the people have the discretion to determine what the law should be. What, then, is enforcement of Sharia meant to achieve? Given that all Muslims agree that there is an obligation to offer prayers five times a day, should we promulgate a law requiring the state to flog whoever fails to say such prayers?

Is it desirable to remove the sensible distinction between a crime and a sin and require the state to step into the shoes of God and sit in judgment over the piety of citizens and punish those found wanting? And, given that Islam as a religion hasn’t bestowed the authority on any individual or institution to speak authoritatively in the name of God or render one authentic interpretation of the edicts enshrined in the Quran and Sunnah, who will determine which conception of Sharia is the legitimate one? Can the state, then, authorise or tolerate one group of people coercing others into complying with their conception of Sharia or itself get into the business of defining a legally binding concept of Sharia? Should the state expand its existing constitutional mandate of ‘enabling’ citizens to order their lives in accordance with Islamic teachings to get into the business of “enforcing” a certain conception of individual Islamic obligations of Muslims?

The liberals in Pakistan continue to reiterate Jinnah’s vision for a secular Pakistan and his speech of Aug 11, 1947, emphasising that the state would have nothing to do with religion. But even if we concede for a moment that “Pakistan ka matlab kya, la illa ha illallah” summarises the true purpose of Pakistan’s creation, the slogan means different things to different people. There is urgent need for us to have an open public debate in the country to evolve a consensus over the role that the state can, and should, legitimately plan in relation to Islam. So long as we continue to abdicate the responsibility of defining for ourselves the manner in which we wish the state and religion to interact in Pakistan out of timidity, laziness or indifference, obscurantists, bigots and vigilantes who neither have the ability nor the inclination to develop the concept of a modern Muslim nation-state will continue to hijack religion to pursue invidious political and personal agendas.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School.

Religion and Pakistan Problem

April 25, 2009

By Badri Raina | ZNet, April 25, 2009

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

Without religion, you would have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

—Steven Weinberg


Nowhere is the truth of Weinberg’s insight more commonly and more globally apparent than during times of inter-community violence in one part of the world or another.

Routinely during India’s routine “communal riots,” it is seen that there are those who weapon in hand, set out to kill in the name of their religion, and, others who, despite belonging to the same religion, seek to save the hapless victims because they happen to be just good-natured human beings first.

The argument is not that individuals may not practice the tenets of a religion, but that it is only when common humanity sets religion aside that anything good gets done.

If I am writing this, it is because when the first tribal attack happened on Kashmir in 1947, it was our own Kashmiri Muslims who saved so many of us Hindus from the depredations of their co-religionist attackers.

Just as in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, many desperate Muslims found safety in Gujarati Hindu homes.

On a larger scale, often good people in great office are known to pursue vicious ends with the self-righteous sanction of some self-defined religious impulse.

Voices come to them which decree that this country or that be assaulted forthwith if the world is to be saved for some “noble” end. That those so-called “noble” ends often turn out to be crassly ignoble of course remains a truism of organized histories.

Millions, we are tutored by god’s own leaders, must die so that other millions be saved for the good life. Or else why would Hiroshima have happened? And, soon after Nagasaki, without a hint of remorse at or recognition of the meaning of the first catastrophe.

It is for such reasons that the accreted experiences of collective life and strife were to persuade humanist theorists that whereas human beings are free to have and practice religions, the one thing that the State must never have is religion. It would be so much nicer if it also had no armaments. But that is another, though a closely related, story.

That after all was the idea that was to translate into the notion of human beings as secular citizens, subject to secular laws which were made by common consent and with universal applicability.

And made by institutions which embodied the “general will” rather than some sectarian interest over which only some self-appointed closet Authority had the first and last say.

Pandit, Pope, or Mullah. Or the Dictator blessed by them, blessing them in turn.

Authority which drew its sanction from some permanently unverifiable intimacy with god. For in that scheme of things that which remains forever absent must come to be seen as having absolute sway over everything that is present or available to human determination. And through the unchallengeable agency of god’s self-appointed interlocutors.

The pity of it all is that this notion of Authority tends repeatedly to find favour with the high and mighty who fear the consequences of democracy.

And in many ivy league academies it is not unusual to find high-priests of culture who hold, breathtakingly, the view that whereas poetry must be deeply personal and private, or that literary texts ought to be read principally as coded offerings with transcendent meanings, or as inconsequentially dull or pleasurable distractions, religion we require to suffuse our collective social and political lives, and indeed, when the time comes, to kill and pillage without suffering guilt or shame. Or, indeed, doubt.

That such worthies have often been discovered, finally, to have been on the side of the fascists should be no surprise.

Which is not to say that there have not been godless atheists who have not wrought mayhem upon the world. That they did not do so under the cloak of religious sanction, or at god’s command, however, left them rather more naked to scrutiny and opprobrium than those who have killed and who kill in the name of god and religion.

How often and how conveniently they have pleaded that they may not be held responsible, since they had no axe of their own to grind, being mere agents of some divine command. Command that never is susceptible to interception, however evolved the snooping technologies of the world. No satellite thus far that could bring us the gleam in god’s hinting eye.


Even now there are those in the “Christian” world who believe that the State should essentially be driven by Biblical injunctions. Meaning of course only those injunctions which suit their class purposes: “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but never “it is as difficult for a rich man to go to heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle,” or “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or “blessed are the meek, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven,” and “lay not thy treasure upon the earth,” etc.,

Thus many in America still hold to the view that the “American Dream” has had behind it a divine sanction, especially as deriving from such exegeses of the business of Christianity as provided in the work of the theologian, John Calvin. After all, it must have seemed providential to the Puritans escaping religious persecution in Europe to find a whole “empty” continent ready and waiting for them.

As to the natives who had been there over millennia, their time had clearly come to yield the continent to god’s chosen people!

With an acumen marvelously apposite to Capitalism, Calvin was to argue that human beings could not be saved on the day of Judgement either by the “good works” they had done, or because of the “faith” they had felt, however intensely, be it. Such matters, he argued, were all “pre-determined” by god.

And, thus, whereas the homo sapien could never have any free will in matters spiritual, he was totally his own man in matters temporal. From thence you can see how Manhattan came to be.

And that, therefore, like the ‘divine right of kings’ of pre-capitalist times in Europe, the American State has a similar divine right to make or break all the laws that must govern the fallen world elsewhere.

Yet, the salutary fact remains that over some two hundred years of practicing democracy, it is hardly imaginable that America will be allowed by the American “general will” to become a theocracy. Thank god for that one certainty.

The Zionists in Israel have of course an even more ancient divine claim to make to the land of Palestine, don’t we know.

But even there, all the calumnies notwithstanding, there are enough fissures and fractures and dissensions that may not be stilled violently within the democracy they practice.

That such democracy is most of the time not to be made available to Arab Israelis is of course another matter. What is to the point here is that the critiques of official dogmas which exist in that State among the Jewish media and intelligentsia, extending sometimes to bold, radical opposition, is not subject to the fear of the loss of limb and life on behalf of the state.

In India, likewise, there are those who wish still to convert the secular nation-state into a Hindu Rashtra. Never a day passes when in some part or the other of the country we do not hear from them, in lesser or greater degree of barbarism. Now vandalizing churches, now demolishing mosques, now chasing and roughing up women in pubs, or art galleries and inimical cultural activists, now going for wholesale loot, burn, and kill pogroms.

Yet, the fact remains that the organized political force which represents that view fails to get the electoral endorsement of some 70% of Hindus. And more especially, thanks to a secular Constitution and to secular institutions of State, their’s remains an unrealizable project, because unauthorized by state ideology for now.

And thanks in large measure also to the fact that the armed forces in India have no religious axes to grind.

The fact of India’s secular Constitution always puts the Hindutva brigade in the wrong, and lends legitimacy to the exertions of those who seek to foil the totalitarian-racist agenda of Hindutva.


In an earlier column on the issue (The Pakistan Problem, ZNet, April 08, 2009) I had argued that, after all the micro-level analyses of the situation in that embroiled country, the fundamental source of what is happening there resides in the Pakistani State’s ambiguity about itself. An ambiguity, for example, which does not bedevil Saudi Arabia or Iran who remain full-bloodedly Islamic.

To wit, does the legitimacy of the State in Pakistan derive from secular and egalitarian principles of citizenship and a secular regime of laws and institutions, or must it in turn still seek legitimation from a theocratic idea which supersedes what mere legislators decree?

It should be obvious that the victory of secular parties in recent Pakistani general elections notwithstanding, the question remains a moot one. Or else why would the world be witness to the extraordinary occurrence of a whole swathe of territory being officially allowed to practice Islamic Sharia dispensations rather than the systems of justice available in metropolitan Pakistan?

It is to be doubted whether even a majority, single-party BJP government at the centre in Delhi would formally say to Narendra Modi in Gujarat, “go, you are now free to institute a Hindu Rashtra in Gujarat, delinked from the secular Constitution of India,” although such may remain its nefarious, subterranean goal. But that is in large measure due to the fact that the Constitution of the Indian Republic is unambiguously secular in the first place.

Just to recall that in Pakistan the Hudood laws brought on the books during the Zia-ul-Haq regime, chiefly to render women disenfranchised chattel, have not exactly disappeared from those books.

And, having tasted blood in the Swat valley of the North West Frontier Province, the Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammed, has gone on to make a more fundamental proposition—one that informs the anxiety of this column and the earlier column I wrote.

Succintly, the Sufi has postulated that democracy is an un-Islamic system (HT, April, 20).

And thereby hangs the tale to which I think attention requires to be drawn with more honesty and rigour than seems either available or palatable.

Put simply, it was my argument in the previous column that this is precisely the postulation that all those in and out of governance in Pakistan who stand by democracy need to confront.

To put the matter sharply: having successfully defeated a dictatorship, are they now willing to lose out to theocracy?

It was also another part of the same argument that this confrontation cannot be engaged in or won if the battle is joined on the turf laid out by those who hold that Pakistan being an “Islamic Republic” must self-evidently abide by Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) rather than by such tenets of law and citizenship that derive from the Enlightenment.

And the fact that Pakistan does formally continue to be an “Islamic Republic” only must lend strength and legitimacy to the Taliban argument rather than to the exertions of those among Pakistan’s rights groups and westernized elites who seek a destiny of “modernity” for their country. Not just in technological terms, but as principles of social and legal behaviour, and of State policy.

Needless to say, the attempt to meet the Taliban argument half-way, as it were, bears as little logic or promise of success in Pakistan as for us in India to grant with any modicum of compromise the perception that India is essentially a Hindu nation.

The difference is that Pakistan seemingly teeters on the edge of a paradigm shift. Sooner than later, that shift will have to happen, one way or another. It may not be able to linger too long in the area of ambiguity.

Depending on what option it chooses, there cannot but be consequences. Should it choose to go over with full scope and honesty to Islamic statehood, we may have losers of one kind. But should it choose to strive for a secular statehood, the losers may be of another kind.

And, depending on who loses and who wins, the consequences for Pakistan, the sub-continent, and the world in general will not but be also suitably momentous.

As things are shaping, it seems less and less likely that Pakistan can procrastinate forever, or find answers merely in a discourse of accommodation, however adroitly articulated. Or, indeed, deflect the problematic by foregrounding its enmity with India as its primary antagonism.

In the final analysis, Islamism and democracy may indeed find themselves at irreconcilable loggerheads, as the good Sufi Mohammed suggests. Religion, we submit may bring solace to the individual soul; it only brings disaster to nations and states when it is made their chief informing principle.

Capitalism is Dead, Long Live Capitalism

April 6, 2009

What of Religion?

By Badri Raina | ZNet, April 5, 2009


One million Indian lives were consumed by the famine of 1771 in the Purnea district of the then undivided Bengal Province.

Warren Hastings, Governor General, proudly wrote back to the Board of Directors of the East India Company that, contrary to what might have been expected, he had collected more taxes that year than ever before!

This may have pleased the Company but did not please Edmund Burke.

His fulminations about how the Company had devastated flourishing cities like Dacca and Murshidabad and handed the region over to the tiger and the orangutan are of course legend.

So why was he so displeased, and why did he become the chief engine of the subsequent impeachment of Hastings?

Not because his heart bled for the Indians, but because he knew cannily enough that if such depredations were allowed to continue, the Company could not hope to survive for long.

Crucial to the continued exploitation of the colony and to the drain of its wealth was the preservation of the myth that the British were in India to do good to the Indians against their own primitive incompetence. The “white man” had to show himself a saviour.

Such was also the reason why Burke was to become an implacable enemy to the revolution in France.

It was important to show that the British dispensation at home, however oppressive, was anyway to be preferred to the egalitarian impulse of the French event, and to ensure that nothing of that kind brewed within the shores of Britannia.

Some fifty years on from there, Carlyle wrote perhaps the first three-volume account of the French Revolution (1836).

And the intent was no different. The purpose was to egg the new Whig parliament to effect “reforms” in good time lest Chartism took on the dimensions of the French happenings at home.


Something similar seems to have happened at the London, G-20 summit.

Recognizing the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon model of free-market Capitalism, its global votaries have put their heads together to salvage Capitalism from its ruins.

The air from London is thus thick with news of Capitalist institutions and practices up for pragmatic “reform.”

Interestingly, if “reform” since the Washington Consensus (1990) had meant a near-total deregulation of Capital flows, Banking practices, Market mechanisms, and a dissolution of the sovereignty of nation-states to enable the global privatization of wealth and profit-maximisation, “reform” at the 2009 London conclave seems to have come to mean something rather contrary to all that. Even if only as a change of garb.

We now hear of a global intent to reform the IMF, even as more liquidity is infused into its coffers ($500 billion, precisely), of regulation of banking and other investment practices, of sops to be doled out to those most innocent of the collapse but most affected by it, and of steering clear of “protectionism” so that the revival of global wealth multipliers are not thwarted by debilitating autarky.

In one word, the Captains of world Capitalism seem to have come to the view that if Capitalism is to be saved for the times to come, it will need to be given the garb of a world-wide Social Democracy for a while.

And, the Sinner of the first part, namely the United States of America, seems to have also come round to the view that it may not hope to lord it over the wealth of nations in quite the unfettered way it has been used to.

Cannily, if the survival of Capitalism requires that parties such as India, South Africa, Brazil, and China be incorporated fully into the world Capitalist system then so be it.

Better that than give them the breathing space to chalk out political economies of an alternate kind.

And, surely, all of them seem equally elated to be now sitting at the global high-table, with a stake in the pie. And the right to make impressive noises in the world’s regulatory committees.

However we may cavil at the subterfuges, the news of the death of the Washington Consensus and of its transmutation into the London Consensus must for now be greeted with some relief, even as the struggle for Socialism must continue to be engaged in with conviction and hard work.


The world could, however, also do with another concomitant relief—namely, from the devastating ravages that religion has been subjecting it to.

This writer has often pointed to the integral tie-up between Capital and organized Religion (

And a full enunciation of that thought is now available in a book called God Is Back, written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge.

Indeed, these two gentlemen, one a Roman Catholic and another an Atheist, concur sentiently on how the adherence to faith and to science-driven capital meet most sweetly in the market-economies of the world. Precisely what we have been at pains to say.

It is another matter that the book shallowly endorses this marriage of convenience, without, as Troy Jollimore underscores in a fine review (Truthdig, April 2, 2009), being troubled by any chicaneries and inconsistencies of logic or principle. Including the reality that this unholy tie-up has tended to “encourage parochialism and hatred of the other, as well as superstition and scientific ignorance.”

As Jerry Coyne says it in The New Republic, to say that science and religion are compatible because many profit by the conjunction is “like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers.”

Here is a sampling of what some illustrious souls have had to say on the matter:

“Religions are all alike—founded upon fables and mythologies”

(Thomas Jefferson)

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”


“Religion is based. . . mainly on fear. . .fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . .My own view on religion is that of Lucretious. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”

(Bertrand Russel)

Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”

(Kurt Vonnegut)

“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.” (Nietzsche)

“I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul. . . No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life—our desire to go on living—our dread of coming to an end.” (Edison)

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own—a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.” (Einstein)

and, succinctly for our consideration of contemporary international life:

If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.” (Voltaire).

Indeed, the thinker most congenial to the Capitalist way of perceptions, Freud, was to call religion an “extraordinarily useful illusion.”


The fact is that where organized religion before the advent of Capitalism presided unmitigatingly as the chief oppressor in league with privileged authority, Capitalism, from the Protestant Reformation onwards, has found in it a potent tool to neuter the secular concerns and mobilizations of vast billions of human beings, as well as to make of it yet another source of commercialized profit-making.

And when the need arose, to draft whole nations into war through a deadly mix of faith and jingoism. All for the enrichment of the possessing classes.

It is hardly a wonder that the conflict between a rampant imperialism thirsting to appropriate the oil wealth of Western Asia and the Middle East, and to secure land and sea routes for the purpose was until the other day to find it useful to pitch the contention as a “clash of civilizations.”

And we were invited to think that the “civilization” responsible for Hiroshima, the Holocaust, the slave trade, and innumerable other depredations through centuries of aggressive invasions was “superior” to Babylon and Mesopotamia. Think again.

That human frailty, compounded by immiseration and exploitation, looks heaven-ward is perhaps both understandable and excusable.

Yet, that “global” impulse has nowhere been given a more humane expression than in the saying of those drop-outs from organized “high-religions” whom the world knows as the Sufis, the Mystics, the Dervishes and so forth.

A tribe of empathy-riddled, non-coveting, and fearlessly loving human beings who placed the least always at the centre of their teachings and concerns.

Happily, such ones were to be found among all of the world’s major semitic and non-semitic faiths, and among all of the world’s poet-legislators.

They were, and remain, the uniters, not the vicious dividers.

I may conclude by citing just one couplet from the great Mirza Ghalib—a couplet that could bring light and wisdom both to the fraught world of contemporary Islam and their counterparts everywhere, including the right-wing Hindutva fascists in India:

Hum Muvahid hein, hamara kesh hai tarque rasoom, Milatein sab mitt gayein, ajzaayei eemaan ho gayein.”

Instantly translated, this might read:

Ghalib, I hold all gods to be one god:

The highest faith can result only

When all discrete dogmas are shunned.


At a time now when Capitalism is somewhat on the back foot, when the drums of war seem more hesitant, when relations between nations and communities are sought to be “reset’, how lovely it would be if the world were also to be freed of the fatal stranglehold of dogmas, and returned to the noble instincts of common humanity.

After all, what use is it otherwise to say that Jesus, Mohammed, Ram, Budh were indeed the finest human beings—before they were anything else—known to the history of homo sapiens?

Can we expect that Capitalist and other warlords will now spare both the earth and the human race from the twin onslaughts of Capital and Religion?

When faith uses force

September 30, 2008

Behind a new outbreak of violence against Christians in India lies a long-running campaign for Hindu cultural dominance

Protest in New Delhi against Hindu anti-Christian violence in India

An activist demonstrating in New Delhi against the violence of hardline Hindu groups against Christians in several Indian states, September 29 2008. Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Standing next to France’s President Sarkozy, the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh today made a heartfelt plea over the spread of anti-Christian violence in India. The sight of Hindu mobs smashing churches and prayer halls while Christians in the country are killed or left cowering under tarpaulin sheets in refugee camps is, as Dr Singh rightly described, a “national shame”. There are calls from within the ruling Congress party, which relies on the votes of Christians and Muslims in India, to ban Hindu extremist organisations such as the Bajrang Dal, which uses force when the force of argument fails.

There has been bloodshed on both sides. One Christian priest was “cut to pieces” in front of his wife. A Hindu priest was shot dead for campaigning against religious conversions. The violence, which has left nearly two dozen dead, has spread across six states. Even after the Pope intervened, the Roman Catholic archbishop of one of the worst affected areas in eastern India said the situation was “out of control”.

What lies behind this violence is nothing less than a struggle for the soul of India. Religion is deeply rooted in this country of one billion. The divine was fundamental in the creation of post-independence India. Unlike Europe, in India the Gods will not disappear in a blaze of rational thinking.

But views of God led to a schism in Indian nationalism. One side is rooted in secular thinking: that beneath the differences among India’s religions there is a common creed, a moral order articulated in the country’s constitution. Opposing this is the Hindu right. Their philosophy aims to unify the country under the banner of the majority religion. It sees the country’s post-independence constitution as an instrument forged by “pseudo-secularists”, which now needs to be updated to reflect the Hindu character of India.

Christians in India long pre-dated the British, who sponsored missionary activity with little success. In 1947, only 3% of the country was Christian. There’s an unmistakable tint to Christianity in India: the priests are mostly upper-caste Brahmin converts and the flock is mostly drawn from the country’s untouchable communities known as Dalits. Contemporary Hindu anger centres on the idea that India’s rise will see an explosion of Christians in the country – a takeover by a foreign ideology like that experienced by South Korea in the 1960s.

The Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata party, says it is against proselytisation through coercion, inducement, or by vilifying any faith. That conversion continues, therefore, and that it remains legal, drives Hindu groups into a bloody frenzy. By decrying the violence but remaining powerless to prevent it, the Indian prime minister exposes his strength and weakness. The Indian federal government could suspend state administrations – for failing to quell violence. This is the nuclear option of unseating a democratically elected local regime. Instead, the Indian prime minister chooses only speak up.

Martha Nussbaum, the noted American philosopher, draws a comparison with 1950s America where only a few groups such as the Ku Klux Klan would openly advocate violence, but “where the whole society was suffused with attitudes that … often condoned violence against African Americans, attitudes that clearly affected the behaviour of the police and other officers of the law”. This remark is telling because, in the southern Indian town of Mangalore, it was Christian churches that were attacked, yet the leaders of Hindu mobs walked free for days, untouched by the police.

The violence is the really about the clash within. Like the United States, India has never had a state-imposed religion. It has always had a tradition of sects and religious minorities, which coexist and compete with each other without suffering state persecution or patronage. Instead of trying to capture state power for the purpose of waging a cultural war, the Hindu right would do the country a service by reforming itself from within – promoting equality and unifying its own denominations and sects.

Religion’s role in India must be one of restraining passions, not inflaming them.

To keep up with Randeep Ramesh’s blog from India, go here.

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