Monday, December 08, 2008

Terrorists DO have religions

I get irked when people say terrorists have no religion. In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in Bombay, this is the statement I seem to hear/read the most. Everybody from Manmohan Singh to Aamir Khan to the general public seems to be endorsing this view. Now, if this is a knee-jerk reaction to avoid a communal scene in the wake of the attacks by laying the blame on the entire Muslim community, something bigots in our country love to do, I am with the intention, but against the reaction itself. The statement has recklessly deep and harmful implications.

Firstly, people that have no religion are the atheists, agnostics and the non-religious. The 'Istics', myself included. When you say terrorists have no religion, you directly put them in the same category as us. We are not the ones flying planes into buildings, bombing cities and gunning people down. We don't live a life fueled by dogmatic beliefs. Please don't put us together. What you say implies that you hold religion and the religious as infallible, untouchable, and if somebody engages in mindless carnage, they have got to be non-religious. Not true. Unacceptable.

Secondly, with a statement like that, you are overlooking the fact that there is a problem with religion. You are giving religion a free pass. Remember that religions were created by humans, and can only be as good as the people practicing them. Religion is not just scripture; it also includes the deeds people carry out in its name. Terrorists kill because they believe god instructs them to. They believe in a god and pray to him. They are religious. That is why we call them 'religious extremists'. Admit it. And deal with it accordingly. Don't exonerate religion from flaw. Unless we accept this, we won't get to the root of the problem. It will keep hitting us. Terrorists can have any religion. While the generic face of global terror today is the Islamic jehadist, there are terrorists from other religions too - There are Christian terrorists in Nagaland. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS are Hindu terrorists. Raj Thackeray and his MNS pinheads are Maharashtrian terrorists - regional terrorists! So you see, terrorists can belong to any religion or region.

Having said that, I next wish to directly address the role that religion plays in terror. And while I have just shown how terrorists can belong to any religion, and people that know me, know me to be as secular as one can get, I am sure that even the most devout of all Muslims reading this post, would regretfully agree that as far as terrorism goes, the most formidable problem facing the world today, and one that refuses to go away easily, is the terror caused by Islamic jehadists. Muslims in India, both civilians and religious preachers, have gone on record condemning the attacks, saying that Islam does not preach or permit the murder of innocents, and that the terrorists have misconstrued the Qur'an. Some have even pleaded with the terrorists in newspaper columns to stop calling themselves the representatives of the Muslim community, and that they are maligning Muslims all over the world by doing so. I believe all these sentiments are genuine. I believe that these people are honestly shocked that the terrorists should use Islam as an excuse for the cold blooded murder of innocents. They say and honestly believe that Islam is a religion of peace. Why all the carnage then? Why is Islamic terrorism threatening the world with mindless violence and destruction? The motive is political, I agree. But what makes certain Muslim youth so gullible to be brainwashed by these 'politickers' and fall for divisive politics, take to violence and declare war against 80% of humanity? If Islam preaches peace, how is it so easily used to cause the perpetrators of the terrorist acts to lose all empathy for human life?

Here is why: The Qur'an can be interpreted either way. Moderates would read certain verses and interpret them in way that would imply that Islam only teaches peace, love and tolerance. The extremists read the same verses and arrive at a completely different, diagonally opposite conclusion, one that implies that Islam calls for a war on all other religions, and righteous bloodshed for its cause. Why the two (or more) separate interpretations? Because Islam, like every other religion in the world, and the Qur'an, like every other religious text that exists, was written by men. Mortal, fallible men, and so, like every other religion and 'sacred text', it is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Moderates interpret it as preaching love and peace, because they WANT it to preach love and peace. They have a sense of distinguishing between right and wrong, and so if a particular verse seems to be endorsing violence, they either overlook it or interpret the same verse in a different context that makes it seem more valid. And this source of the ability to choose the right from the wrong, does not stem from religion itself, but from having lived in society and learned the importance of mutual altruism - that the only way to live in the world is to do to others what you would have them do to you, and not do what you yourself wouldn't like to be done to you. This is exactly what people of every religion do - pick and choose; sieve the 'right' from the 'wrong', overlook the 'wrong' or interpret it to imply something 'right'. But the ability to scan religion itself, to separate the right from the wrong, has its roots outside religion. So, the reason moderate Muslims are condemning the attacks in Bombay, is not because the Qur'an says so, but for the same reason that non-Muslims are doing the same - because it is so OBVIOUSLY WRONG. You don't need religion to tell you this. You don't need religion to instruct you to have love and respect for human life, and to not destroy it mercilessly. It however, took religion to brainwash a few young kids, who would perhaps have otherwise grown up to be good, law abiding citizens, before they could be given the chance to think for themselves and develop the discerning ability that I wrote about above, and to convert them into killing machines for god, with zero empathy for the gift of life.

Reminds me of a quote by Steven Weinberg, 1979 Noble Prize winner in Physics - "Even without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." Certainly true in the case of the Bombay gunmen. And the case of the 19 well-to-do, educated youth that carried out the 9/11 attacks. And the perpetrators of the 2005 London bombings. And the Hindu fundamentalists that carried out violent attacks against Muslims in the 2002 post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat. The list is endless.

We need reason, not religion.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Longing for Anesthesia

My recent trip to India wasn't the best I could have asked for. To start with, it was short. Very much so. All of two weeks. And no matter how much I had prepared my mind before I even left for home, I felt the shortness. I felt the clock tick away fast. Immensely.

Secondly, the heat, and the pollution. Even if you have lived in Bombay all your life, spend fifteen months away in an essentially colder and cleaner place and come back. You are bound to take some time to acclimatize yourself to the change. Most of my time was spent preparing for a cousin's wedding, the reason I made this short trip in the middle of my semester. Shopping for gifts, clothes and attending elaborate pre-marital functions hardly left me any time to spend the way I would have wanted to. Calling it hectic would be a gross understatement. On top of that, I had to keep in touch with my classmates and colleagues at my university to keep pace with homeworks, projects, updates, announcements,instructions from my professors etc. that were taking place in my absence. Water and plumbing problems in my old, can-collapse-if-someone-kicks-a-wall-hard-enough building did not make my stay any more comfortable, and the less said about internet connectivity problems, the better. I couldn't spend enough time with my parents and with my best friends and couldn't even meet a few others. And all my pre-trip dreams of the desi goodies that I miss while I am in the US and was going to gorge on during my stay at home were brutally crushed by an upset stomach.

Yet, for all the above laments, did I wish to leave home and be back here? Heck, no! It is home! Home! The most underestimated word in the language. The place that has the power to attach its inhabitants to itself in a bond that neither Newton nor van der Waals can explain. One small, single place that means the world to most of us. One word that incorporates everything - parents, siblings, friends and childhood; school, college and education; gully cricket and exam fever; crushes, sweethearts, growing up and breakups; love, closeness, comfort...and life.

It might be your first trip home since you first left, or it might be your tenth. It might be a three-month long, comfortable stay, or a two-week long, hectic and bumpy one, as was mine. The pain of leaving at the end of it all, is unmitigated, intense and inescapable.

Yesterday, as I was trying to locate my Delta Airlines connecting flight from JFK on one of the electronic schedule charts at the terminal, my eyes inadvertently fell on the DL16 flight scheduled for Bombay at 10:05 pm, the one I had taken two weeks back. A crazy idea struck me. Could I somehow hoodwink the authorities into letting me on this flight? Having just arrived from Bombay, what if I took this next flight back to where I had just come from? Fourteen hours...just fourteen hours and I would be home again! What a pleasant surprise for Mom and Dad who must still be sad from having to see me leave! Alas! Sense prevailed and all I could do was longingly stare at the people gleefully making their way to Gate # 4 (that's where the said flight leaves from), wishing I could join them on their flight.

As I type this, I reminisce my first day in school. My very first day. Kindergarten. A two-and-a-half year old me being led away from my parents for the first time in my life, by complete strangers my parents told me were 'teachers'. As I was led into my classroom, I bawled loudly, not caring if my tears were seen, not caring if other kids laughed, arms outstretched, pleading to be united with my parents. Any moment now, my parents would come running and snatch me away from the evil teachers. But they just waved. My arms remained outstretched. Open.

I want to do the exact same thing right now. Cry. Bawl out loud with my arms in the air. It didn't work then. It might work now. I want to shut my eyes and sleep. Sleep. And open my eyes to find that it had all been a dream. That I am still on my bed at home. I wish to be anesthetized so I don't feel the pain of being away from home, don't feel the longing to fly back to where I belong, don't feel the envy when people I know here go back home in the near future. I wish to be anesthetized so I don't feel...anything.

Monday, February 11, 2008

WTF

Warning: Crass language.

I was out of touch with news from home for a few days, busy with homework etc. A friend happened to mention the recent attacks on 'immigrants' in Bombay. A little google news search threw up appalling headlines, with equally appalling pictures. I am guessing that much has been said and written about the issue - defense, condemnation, and fence sitting. I just wish to add my worthless rant.

First the disclaimer - I do think the problem itself is very real and very grave. I do think the unchecked migration of job-seekers into Bombay is an issue that needs to be addressed, and addressed fast. Bombay does not have the capacity to accommodate and feed countless people. There aren't jobs for everyone. It results in poverty, low standard of living, health problems and invariably, in rising crime. What I do hold, is that beating the shit out of bhaiya taxi drivers and vada paav vendors is no solution. It only serves to aggravate the problem.

Now, my main point - I do not think Raj Thackeray or other perpetrators of similar violence think it is a solution either. They know they are not attempting to solve the problem. They know nothing is going to come out of it. They don't frickin' care. They have neither the ability, nor the will it takes, and they know it.

Why all the carnage then? Why, to seek attention of course! Beat up a few defenseless individuals in mobs of dozens, break their bones, smash their vehicles to smithereens and lo! You hog the limelight for the next few weeks to come. They will be talking about you, that is for sure! There will be interviews, speeches, debates, protests, talk shows. Everything will be about you. And in the ensuing elections, you will of course, garner the capacity votes of people who support your 'cause'; people with thinking as warped as your own.

Why? Just why is it so very easy to be important? Who the hell makes these retards the bosses? Why is it that they believe they are the law or above it, and feel secure enough to engage in acts of battery, without the slightest fear of any repercussion, and to later justify those shameless acts of cowardice? You are physically hurting; punching, kicking, trampling on, dealing blows to an unarmed human being, who never meant you any harm and is striving hard to make ends meet. How morally decrepit can one get?

In one of the episodes of the popular TV series 'South Park', humans from 3000 AD travel back in time to the present to seek jobs, as there aren't enough jobs in the future. Since these future humans (called 'Goobacks' in the episode) are willing to work for paltry wages, they soon begin to replace the current workmen, and many people from the present are rendered jobless. The jobless men come up with a solution - they take off their clothes, get on top of one another and engage in a gay orgy. Their justification - if everyone becomes gay, there won't be any children, hence no future and no ‘goobacks’ to travel back in time and snatch away jobs from their current holders. The insane orgy continues till a bunch of sensible nine year olds explain that the solution to the problem, is not to stop the future from happening but to make it better, starting now. Replace the people from the future with people from other states and the sexual gratification with a sadistic one, and you have the current scenario in Bombay.


The 'gay-pile' of South Park residents

The more I read about it, the more I think, and the more my blood boils. It is time we showed these mindless self-appointed upholders of justice their place. But then again, fat chance this will happen. I just hope, very hopelessly hope, that these rotting souls meet a very ghastly, violent end, live to see their decapitated limbs, taste their own gastric acid maybe.

Son of the soil? 'Son of a bitch' is more like it.

PS: I am open to criticism and debate through the comments section. However, I do not support any political party, and I plead you to not crap the section with comments that assume I have a political agenda that is one with the Shiv Sena or the Congress or any party that the MNS is against. In other words, I don't want inane comments that go 'The Shiv Sena also does this' or 'The Congress doesn't do that'. That shall be much appreciated. Thank you.