Nov. 12th, 2014 09:15 pm
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
"ONE DAY IN EARLY FEBRUARY 2002, a 12-year-old girl named Anika, the daughter of a senior engineer at Larsen and Toubro in Surat, got word she would be giving a dance performance at her school’s annual day on 1 March. It was to be her first dance in costume, and Anika insisted that her grandparents, who lived in Ahmedabad, should come to Surat to see her on stage. Her grandfather assured Anika he would certainly be there to see her perform.

Two days before Anika’s performance, on 27 February, 58 people—many of them women and children—were killed on a train passing through Godhra, 160 kilometres east of Ahmedabad. The train was carrying members of the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, who were returning from Ayodhya after celebrating the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and initial reports suggested that a mob of Muslims in Godhra had executed a pre-planned attack on the coach.

As word began to spread from Godhra—and pictures and video from the scene hit the airwaves—fury mounted, led by the activists of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and RSS, baying for revenge. By the evening, the VHP called for a statewide bandh the next day, which was endorsed by the ruling BJP.

That same night, Ehsan Jafri, a 72-year-old former MP for Ahmedabad, called his granddaughter Anika in Surat with some disappointing news. Ensconced in his home in Gulburg Society, a mostly Muslim upper-middle class neighbourhood in Ahmedabad, Jafri, a veteran Congress politician, already sensed it would be risky to attempt a journey to Surat the next day. On the phone, he told Anika he wouldn’t be able to come. “But it’s just a shutdown, and he should make it,” she protested to her mother.

At around noon on 28 February, Anika called her grandfather again. “Have you not started?” she asked him. “Beta, the situation is not good here,” Jafri answered. “There are mobs everywhere.” He told her he needed to put the phone down, since he had a lot of calls to make.

A huge mob had already gathered around Gulburg Society, armed with petrol bombs, cycle chains and swords, shouting slogans like “Take revenge and slaughter the Muslims.” Many of Jafri’s neighbours, as well as Muslims from neighbouring slums, had come to his house seeking safety, expecting that his status as a former member of Parliament would afford them protection. “He must have made over a hundred phone calls for help,” Jafri’s wife, Zakia, told me. He called the Gujarat director-general of police, the Ahmedabad police commissioner, the state chief secretary and dozens of others, pleading for their intercession. A witness who survived the carnage later told a court that Jafri even called Narendra Modi: “When I asked him what Modi said, [Jafri] said there was no question of help, instead he got abuses.” Word of Jafri’s frantic calls for help even reached Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in Delhi: a BJP insider close to Modi, who was with Advani on 28 February, told me that the BJP leader had even called Modi’s office himself to ask about Jafri.

By 2:30 pm, the mobs had broken through the gates of the housing society, and a flood of men converged on Jafri’s home. Women were raped and then burned alive; men were made to shout “Jai Shri Ram”, and then cut to pieces; children were not spared. According to records later submitted in court, Jafri was stripped and paraded naked before the attackers cut off his fingers and legs and dragged his body into a burning pyre. The official police report indicates that 59 people were murdered in Gulburg Society, though independent inquiries put the number at 69 or 70. Jafri’s wife, Zakia, and a few others who had locked themselves in an upstairs room survived.

To this day, Modi maintains that he had no knowledge of the events at Gulburg Society until he was briefed by police officers later that evening. But Sanjiv Bhatt, who was then the state deputy commissioner (Intelligence), says that Modi is lying. (Modi and his administration have vigorously contested Bhatt’s account, as well as the testimony given by several other police and government officials.) Bhatt insists that Modi, who also served as home minister, was in regular contact with the senior police and intelligence leadership throughout the day, and well-informed of events on the ground. Bhatt told me that he spoke with Modi over the phone several times before 2 pm, and reported that a mob had circled Gulburg, and that he met Modi at his office in the afternoon to report that the situation demanded immediate intervention.

“His response was very strange,” Bhatt told me. “He listened and then said, ‘Sanjiv, try to find out if in the past Jafri has been in the habit of opening fire.’”

“Outside the chief minister’s office, in the corridor, I bumped into the former chief minister Amarsinh Choudhary and former home minister Naresh Rawal,” Bhatt continued, referring to two Congress leaders. “Naresh Rawal was my minister earlier, so we talked. They told me Gulburg Ehsanbhai has been giving frantic calls, and they came to meet Modi. I said I had briefed the CM, but you also go and tell him,” Bhatt told me.

“I then got a call on my cellphone from my informer on the site at Gulburg,” Bhatt continued, “telling me that Jafri had opened fire. I was surprised. And when I reached my office, a short report was lying on the table saying Jafri opened fire in self-defence. That was when I realised that this man [Modi] knows things even before I came to know of things.”"
You can read the whole article here. Admittedly, it's two years-old and rather long (to put it mildly), but I can't recommend it enough, especially to those bemused by the comprehensive electoral victory of a man associated with the worst inter-religious violence in India in recent times.
mcgillianaire: (Geetopadesham)
Amartya Sen is arguably India's greatest living public intellectual. In 1998 he won the Nobel Prize in Economics1. His award was a matter of great pride for us Indians. But it wasn't until dad/I bought a copy of his 2005 book, The Argumentative Indian, that we became aware of just how knowledgeable Sen was about India itself, its history and its culture. We just assumed he was a dry financial-economist and another one of those foreign-based Indians, whose connection to the motherland merely consisted of his long-forgotten heritage and obvious Sanskrit-based/Hindu name. How mistaken we were. When I first read The Argumentative Indian about 7-8 years ago, I concluded that it should also be read by every other Indian, and ideally perhaps even by the world at large. Here was a text I had been looking for all along that put the IN back into India, at a time when it seemed like only Western Civilization had triumphed over all others in its rich and ancient dialectic tradition.

Ever since I first read the book my admiration for Sen has grown leaps and bounds. His essays on comparing and contrasting Gandhi and Tagore's patriotism/nationalism were my particular favourites back then. And each time I returned to Muscat, I promised to pack the book along with all my stuff, but for some reason or another I didn't manage it until my latest journey back. It is utterly fascinating how re-reading any book (like this one) with the benefit of added knowledge and experience, brings into focus passages which I probably previously glossed over, and placed into the shade others.

My only regret is not securing a ticket via the lottery to attend Sen's free lecture at the LSE last summer. Anyone who has listened to him recently will only be too aware, how difficult it has become to understand anything he says, but the sheer fact of being in his presence would've ticked-off a long-standing gap in my social CV. Indeed it appears as though I missed another free lecture of his at the LSE just a couple weeks ago. Hopefully he will be back again soon.

Below I have copied an excerpt from the Preface which I think sums up the general tone of Sen's text and provides the reader with an introductory sample of India's (largely-forgotten/ignored?) rich dialectic tradition.

1 Although not one of the Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, it is identified with them, and prizes are announced with and awarded at the same ceremony. The Prize in Economics (as it is referred to by the Nobel Foundation) was established in 1968 and endowed by Sweden's central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the occasion of the bank's 300th anniversary. (Source: Wikipedia)

Preface x-xii

Even though more than 80 per cent of Indians may be Hindu, the country has a very large Muslim population (the third largest among all the countries in the world - larger than the entire British and French populations put together), and a great many followers of other faiths: Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and others.

However, even after noting the need for integration and for a multicultural perspective, it has to be accepted that these old books and narratives have had an enormous influence on Indian literature and thought. They have deeply influenced literary and philosophical writings on the one hand, and folk traditions of storytelling and critical dialectics on the other. The difficulty does not lie in the importance of the Vedas or the Ramayana, but in the understanding of their role in Indian culture. When the Muslim Pathan rulers of Bengal arranged for making good Bengali translations of the Sanskrit Mahabharata and Ramayana in the fourteenth-century (on which see Essay 3), their enthusiasm for the ancient Indian epics reflected their love of culture, rather than any conversion to Hinduism.* It would be as difficult to ignore their general importance in Indian culture (on some allegedly 'secular' ground) as it would be to insist on viewing them through the narrow prism of a particularly raw version of Hindu religiosity.

The Vedas may be full of hymns and religious invocations, but they also tell stories, speculate about the world and - true to the argumentative propensity already in view - ask difficult questions. A basic doubt concerns the very creation of the world: did someone make it, was it a spontaneous emergence, and is there a God who knows what really happened? As is discussed in Essay 1, the Rigveda goes on to express radical doubts on these issues: 'Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? ... perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows - or perhaps he does not know.' These doubts from the second millennium BCE would recur again and again in India's long argumentative history, along with a great many other questions about epistemology and ethics (as is discussed in Essay 1). They survive side by side with intense religious beliefs and deeply respectful faith and devotion.

Similarly, the adherents of Hindu politics - especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions - may take Rama to be divine, but in much of the Ramayana, Rama is treated primarily as a hero - a great 'epic hero' - with many good qualities and some weaknesses, including a tendency to harbour suspicions about his wife Sita's faithfulness. A pundit who gets considerable space in the Ramayana, called Javali, not only does not treat Rama as God, he calls his actions 'foolish' ('especially for', as Javali puts it, 'an intelligent and wise man'). Before he is persuaded to withdraw his allegations, Javali gets time enough in the Ramayana to explain in detail that 'there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that', and that 'the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sastras [scriptures] by clever people, just to rule over [other] people.'** The problem with invoking the Ramayana to propogate a reductionist account of Hindu religiosity lies in the way the epic is deployed for this purpose - as a document of supernatural veracity, rather than as 'a marvellous parable' (as Rabindranath Tagore describes it) and a widely enjoyed part of India's cultural heritage.

The roots of scepticism in India go back a long way, and it would be hard to understand the history of Indian culture if scepticism were to be jettisoned. Indeed, the resilient reach of the tradition of dialectics can be felt throughout Indian history, even as conflicts and wars have led to much violence. Given the simultaneous presence of dialogic encounters and bloody battles in India's past, the tendency to concentrate only on the latter would miss something of real significance.

It is indeed important to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India. In resisting the attempts by the Hindutva activists to capture ancient India as their home ground (and to see it as the unique cradle of Indian civilization), it is not enough to point out that India has many other sources of culture as well. It is necessary also to see how much heterodoxy there has been in Indian thoughts and beliefs from very early days. Not only did Buddhists, Jains, agnostics and atheists compete with each other and with adherents of what we now call Hinduism (a much later term) in the India of the first millennium BCE, but also the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. The Chinese in the first millennium CE standardly referred to India as 'the Buddhist kingdom' (the far-reaching effects of the Buddhist connections between the two largest countries in the world are discussed in Essay 8). Ancient India cannot be fitted into the narrow box where the Hindutva activists want to incarcerate it.

* As is also discussed in Essay 3, the first translation of the Upanishads - the most philosophical part of the Vedic Hindu literature - that caught the attention of European intellectuals was the Persian translation produced in the seventeenth century by the Moghal prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son (and legitimate heir) of Emperor Shah Jahan and of Mumtaz Mahal (the beautiful queen on whose tomb the Taj Mahal would be built). Dara was killed by his more sectarian brother, Aurangzeb, to seize the Moghal throne.

** See Essays 1 and 3 for fuller discussion of these and other examples of ancient scepticism and dialogic combats.


Aug. 28th, 2013 09:35 pm
mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
Well done Labour, if indeed they were instrumental in securing two votes in the Commons. The second is the crucial one on military action, but it won't take place until the on-site UN weapons inspectors have reported back their findings. My views on Syria are still fairly fluid given the complex nature of the conflict, however if chemical weapons have been used (regardless of whether it was the government or the rebels), then I think I would support a limited air strike, merely to dissuade either party from engaging in that type of attack again. But only on one mandatory condition, that we had UN (and possibly even Arab League) support, just as we did with Libya. Surely that's the most important lesson to draw from the Iraq War fiasco. I don't think we should (ever) engage ground troops or take sides in this conflict because I think they're as bad as each other. If the rebels were to come to power, I'm fairly confident they would wipe out the Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs. Sad as it is to digest, pre-Arab Spring, Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, had largely maintained the peace (albeit fragile) between the various communities. Both belong to minorities, just as the Sunni rulers do in Shiite majority Bahrain. I suspect the best solution for Syria, would be to broker a deal between the warring factions, with the support of Russia. The last thing we need is to meddle in another regional conflict that is essentially a Greater Game being contested between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet I suspect between Iran's sabre-rattling over Israel, the Anglo-American Jewish lobbies, Iran's nuclear enrichment, and rising oil prices, my advice will eventually be ignored.
mcgillianaire: (Default)

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior, was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction.

10 More Pics )
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)

It costs 20 Turkish Lira (US$11.2/£7) to visit the museum. We pre-booked a guide for the day which I recommend because they save you from standing in the long queues at each of the main tourist attractions in the old city. The guide we had was very good and he was easy to understand, which cannot be said of many Turkish people speaking English, because he had studied and lived for several years in America and Canada.

The current structure is the third church to be built on the same spot but the marble remains of the second church (415-532 AD) can still be seen next to it, including reliefs showing the Lamb of God. They were part of a monumental front entrance.

15 More Pictures )

Who knew?

Sep. 14th, 2011 06:45 am
mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)
Windows Live Photo Gallery, which comes pre-installed with Windows Vista and Windows 7, has a panoramic stitching feature. Judging by the image below it's bloody good. You can even use the program to upload directly to Flickr and Facebook!

The result using Windows Live Photo Gallery.

The result using Autostitch.
mcgillianaire: (Default)
The Hagia Sophia was the most beautiful building that we visited in Istanbul. A church for more than 1000 years, a mosque for nearly 500 years and now a museum since 1935, a trip to this city would be incomplete without paying your respects to this magnificent structure. And it's huge, so big in fact that it was the world's largest cathedral for over 1000 years until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. Unlike previous photostitched posts, this one is dominated by vertical panoramas.

The Hagia Sophia is located on the European side of Istanbul, on the peninsula that is also home to the oldest parts of the city. The current structure dates from 537 AD but the original cathedral was dedicated in 360 AD.

As usual, click on any of the images to enlarge them.

5 more to give you a complete picture! )
mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
A mobile phone advertisement featuring an illustration of Jesus winking and giving a thumbs-up has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). This isn't the first time the ASA has adjudicated on religious matters and I think it's wrong that they do. Generally speaking, the ASA should only regulate ads that are misleading or deceptive to consumers, but thanks to powers bestowed upon them through the CAP Code (which they didn't write), they have assumed the roles of pope/imam in British society. To better understand what I'm on about, take a look at Clause 5.1 from the Code about Decency, which states that ads:
    "should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. Compliance with the Code will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards of decency"
I think the ASA should not have the power to decide what is or isn't offensive to me on any of those grounds but even if you thought they did, alarm bells should start ringing when ads are banned on the basis of a dozen or a few dozen complaints, rather than the necessary threshold that the ad "is likely to cause serious or widespread offence" (emphasis mine). In the case of the mobile phone advertisement mentioned above, the ASA investigated the matter after receiving... wait for it, 98 complaints! But if you thought that was bad enough, consider the case of a magazine ad for Antonio Federici ice cream exactly a year ago that was banned after 10(!) complaints were received. Why? Let the ASA explain for themselves:
    "We considered the use of a nun pregnant through immaculate conception was likely to be seen as a distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics. We concluded that to use such an image in a light hearted way to advertise ice cream was likely to cause serious offence to readers, particularly those who practised the Roman Catholic faith. We noted that the number of complaints was relatively small but that the ad had been placed in a small number of publications only. The ad breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency). The ad must not appear again in its current form."
Now I don't know about you but I think the ASA has no business banning ads just because it thinks, for whatever reason, the ad would cause serious offence to the entire Roman Catholic community. But it also seems obvious that even if you did think it was their business, the number of complaints makes little or no difference to the people deciding on such matters. They are both judge and jury on matters that hardly concern them.

Such moral policing is common in countries we deplore for a lack of free speech but it seems to me that even at home, there's one rule for advertising and one rule for the press. What's the press got to do with this? Well consider the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed from 2005. It seems obvious to me that had the cartoons been printed as part of an advert, they would've been banned by the ASA. Similarly, had the mobile phone or ice-cream adverts mentioned above been depicted in the form of a newspaper cartoon, it seems highly unlikely that they would've been banned. Now I can understand there's a difference between newspapers and advertisements, as the former seeks to inform and the other seeks to sell (although with the popularity of tabloids there are shortcomings in that assumption). Therefore it could be argued that from a starting point of free speech, a higher degree of regulation is necessary for ads, and I'll agree with that. But the question is at what point should that regulation end? Should the ASA, which derives its powers through parliamentary legislation, be able to in the first place adjudicate on, for example, religious matters? If yes, to what extent should they be able to do so? If clause 5.1 clearly states the ad should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, should the number of complaints play a bigger role in reaching a conclusion? Should the ASA have so much unfettered discretion in reaching its decisions on such matters? You know where I stand.
mcgillianaire: (Statue of Liberty)
In the midst of the hysteria about turning a site into a community center, Anne Barnard offers us a timely reminder via the NY Times:
    "...what the two mosques have in common [...] is that both have existed for decades, largely unnoticed, blocks from the World Trade Center site. Masjid Manhattan, on Warren Street, four blocks from ground zero, was founded in 1970. Masjid al-Farah, formerly on Mercer Street, moved to its present location on West Broadway, about 12 blocks from ground zero, in 1985."
9/11 was the world's worst terrorist atrocity and a lot of Americans are still angry about it, but the opposition to the community center goes against everything the American constitution stands for. Which ironically is what many of the protesters use to defend antiquated gun laws and environmentally unsustainable lifestyles. Frankly, it's a response comparing favourably only with what is de rigueur in the third-world.
mcgillianaire: (Default)

It started yesterday in Oman. And a Muslim classmate from high school came home to visit. It was still mid-afternoon. Barely seconds after wishing him a generous month of fasting, I went back into auto-pilot and asked him what he would like to drink. Naturally he refused but he was kind enough to stop me before it became too embarrassing. Not that he minded much. But still. Schoolboy error. And I shouldn't make excuses, but I'm pretty sure this is my first Ramadan in Oman since we were in high school. Though truth be told, he really should've taught me a lesson and played along.

Posted via LiveJournal.app.

mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
This is the difference between the West and the Rest (BBC)

--How It All Began (BBC), Q&A (BBC), and The Letter (Times)
--Sura Al Baqarah 2:216 and Sura At Tawbah 9:24 [English Translations]
--Sura Al Baqarah (Wikipedia) and Sura At Tawbah (Wikipedia)
--Terrorism Act 2000 (Wikipedia), Terrorism Act 2000 (Wiki CrimeLine UK) and Section 57 (UK Statute Law Database)
--Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips (Wikipedia)

This is the beauty of British law. One court's jury pronounced the five students guilty and they were sentenced to jail. The convicted students appealed to a higher court (Court of Appeal) and succeeded in overturning the earlier decision. Not only that, the judges said the existing law in question needed to be curtailed from its current form. As a result, the government now has seven days to appeal the latest decision in the land's highest court. Could this have happened in any Muslim country for a group of non-Muslim students? No, I think not.


mcgillianaire: (Default)

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