RELIGION HAS GUIDING ROLE IN POLITICS

By Promod Puri

Whereas rituals, customs, and traditions furnish symbolic and distinctive identity to religion, the pathways to the divinity which are paved with morals and ethics, are often debased by its despicable ceremonial rites and practices.

It is in this context that the contemporary and progressive political ideologies disdain religion. Its nature is customarily interpreted thru inherent ritualistic practices rather than its doctrines of ethics and noble thoughts.

This article delves into the subject of “politics and religion”, and seeks the entry of virtuous, logical, informed, and intelligent religiosity in the political constitution serving the modern societies.

The contempt for religion in both Communist and democratic-socialist political ideologies is based on a portrayal that usually embodies rituals, customs, and traditions of a religious order.

Religion has become an official or legal taboo in the political and bureaucratic functioning of secular democracies and socialist regimes. Separation of church, temple, mosque, or synagogue from the state is the byword of the current political thinking.

Even though religion has significantly contributed its philosophies, universal truths, and theories to the school of political science, the two are deemed separate disciplines that influence the affairs and social character of civil society.

Modern political pundits and their students or observers have not gone beyond religious customs and beliefs to explore the intelligence and enlightenment generated over the centuries in discernable interpretations that touch every aspect of human endeavors including politics.

Philosopher T. S. Eliot “believed that democratic societies rejected the influence of an established church at their peril, for in doing so they cut themselves off from the kind of ethical wisdom that can come only from participation in a tradition. Thus, he argued, such a society would degenerate into tyranny and/or social and cultural fragmentation”.  (Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Chapter: Religion and Politics).

Outright purging of religion without recognizing its universal messages of ethical and secular nature has been a major part of the liberal political appeal. But this appeal also holds the hyped social impression that “politics is a dirty game”. The “game” is soiled by immoral, corrupt, and evil intentions. And the latter is the cause that politics becomes “dirty” since ethics are either optional or non-binding.

“Politics and religion must be kept separate” is an acknowledged doctrine in secular and democratic-socialist systems. But there are elements in most religions that are liberal, secular, and democratic. For these reasons, politics can incorporate religion in its order, whereas religion can keep its sanctity if the “dirty politics” stay out of it.

It is a fact that the laws of the land with their universal application have been constituted from religious teachings to institute political ideologies.

Barack Obama cites that “The Majority of great reformers in American history were not only motivated by faith but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause”.

Nevertheless, religion does not find a liking in progressive political behavior. Rather it is inferred as meddling in the affairs of a political system.

In secular societies, demarcations have been marked for the functioning and observation of religious customs and traditions to safeguard political entities from religious entities. However, as religion still enjoys certain privileges and rights besides its deep roots in the psyche of people, it does influence public opinion.

But as long a religion exists with its antiquated, irrational, and irresponsible rituals, customs, traditions, and beliefs, an intelligent society will not accept them as part of its political culture. Moreover, as societies are increasingly becoming culturally pluralists, religious representations from rituals, are not acceptable in non-coherent populations.

In this scenario, senseless convictions along with ceremonial rituals, customs, and traditions need to be disqualified from a political discipline. Rather let religious doctrines based on ethics and moral values contribute to support and enrich political ideologies.

Politics in general, is not, and should not be, confined to skills and strategies to seek or manage power. Besides governance, guidance is also its objective which comes from conscientious and sociological logic offered by religion over the centuries.

In fact, religion itself began as a socio-political movement from the very beginning of its origin.

Essentially, religion is a code of conduct for a civil society. It all started from here. With society’s progression, the code of conduct also evolved resulting in its expansion and formalization.

As civilization started taking root management of the society began.

The origin of religion can be traced as part of human evolution. Ancient religious orders basically were a set of laws and principles for some acceptable behavior in an emerging civil society.

Later all aspects of human cultures including presumptions and myths, and overwhelming elements of nature were covered in one order. In all these developments, social unity and coherence were the natural needs and dependencies of an advancing society.

An organized collection of beliefs and behaviors, a set of ideas started pouring in this social construction. And with the introduction of the Supreme Being, man’s most intuitive conception or imagery, the assemblage got sanctified.

And during this stage of evolution when spirituality and supernatural elements started dominating religion that its philosophical and learned aspects began branching out in various faculties. As such political science emerged as a separate discipline to guide the management of civil society.

In this management, ethics plays a significant role in the development and disciplining of a civic society. Ethics holds society together. Ethics delivered through religion have more commanding acceptance by the society than the constitutional laws and statutes executed in political regimes.

The acceptance of ethics as a theological appeal finds conscientious stay in the minds of people. Many known statesmen and leaders have effectively advocated religious ethics not only as part of their political wisdom and temperament for better understanding and acceptance of their messages but to underline the importance of faith in the affairs of civil society as well.

From Mohammad to Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela and Dr. Ambedkar all had religious commitments grounded in humanism, love, compassion, and kindness to wage their political and social campaigns against slavery, apartheid, discrimination, inequality, and untouchability based on color, class, and caste.

Gandhi’s crusade against evils in the society and his political discourse were derived from the Hindu scriptures of Upanishads advocating the concepts of non-violence, truthfulness, self-discipline, compassion, and virtuousness.

Obama, who believes in the power of faith, has sought a “serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy”.

He argues, “more fundamentally the discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms”. In a public address, he said: “secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square”. (“Obama’s 2006 Speech on Faith and Politics”, The New York Times, June 28,2006 edition).

“Before entering the public square”, what Obama is demanding instead is the infusion of true religion, without its symbolism, in the political environment to establish moral guidelines in its ideologies.

In a world, which is politically divided into two castes of Leftists and Rightists with sub-castes of Extreme Left and Extreme Right, ideological fanaticism runs high along with elements of power, ego, and greed, which are opportunistically embraced by all political establishments. In this “dirty game”, socialist idealism becomes just sloganeering.

The idiosyncrasy of the present socio-political left and the right mental constitution is that the leftists have a revulsion for religion. And the rightists are religious fanatics. The former ridicules and rejects religion and the latter is narcissistically illiterate about it.

And this is where the science of politics must step in to explore the true spirit of religion based on its universal teachings to find permanent residency in political leadership.

Deepak Chopra says: “Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love, and compassion, also intuition, creativity, insight, and focused attention”.

Paved with these divine and acknowledged values religion offers an ever-guiding relationship with politics in the service of humanity and its environment.

(Promod Puri resides in Vancouver, Canada. He is a journalist and author of Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs, and Traditions).

promodpuri.com

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promodpuri.blogspot.com

I Can’t Understand It

When the ongoing tragedies of human sufferings caused by humans do not get from most, a line in the poetry of poets, a page in the writings of writers, a stroke of brush in the paintings of painters, a focus in the meditation of meditators, a stay in the minds of yoga practitioners, a reflection of sermon from a priest about the teachings of Nanak and Kabir, a discern from political scientists and intellectuals in the social sciences, a condemning statement from silver screen heroes and entertainers, a quote from habitual social media motivational advisers. And all the educated professionals who are mum and mute while the human catastrophes pass by only with the apathetic and callous remark “this is all politics.”
-Promod Puri

Democracy In The USA Very Expensive Route To Elect A Govt.

Democrat aspirant Michael Bloomberg is the 12th richest man in the world with a net worth of over $60 billion. If he wins the nomination, Bloomberg will be pitted against another billionaire, the incumbent president, Donald Trump. And this is where money will be a behemoth to impact the election scene.
In the USA, unlike most other democracies in the world, the sky is the limit in election spending.
Bloomberg joined the nomination race in November last year, much later than other candidates. According to a report in the Quartz, he has already spent over $400 million, compared to $120 million by Bernie Sanders, and $90 million by Elizabeth Warren, the two front runners.
Where the money is being spent. Traditionally most of that spending goes to advertising, targeted campaigns, staff, and management.
But in the case of Bloomberg, he is seeking paid volunteers to “share” his messages on social media. That means those who are on Facebook, for example, can carry his news and views and get paid as well.
His unlimited funds in the election fray have worried the other candidates.
-Promod Puri

THESE’RE NOT RIOTS BUT VIOLENT BLITZ ON MUSLIMS

Once again I say these are not riots between Hindus and Muslims.
What has happened are violent and barbaric attacks by the so-called Hindus against the Muslims in several localities of Delhi.
Holding peace prayers and advising calm to both the Muslims and Hindus are nonsense and stereotype politics.
With the open support of the Delhi Police, hired and paid goons of the ruling Hindutva leaders came with lathis in their aggression along with a barrage of rocks on fellow citizens.
Calling the whole mayhem as another Hindu-Muslim riot is trivializing the brewing hatred and violence against Muslims who have every right to be equal and honorable citizens of Hindusthan.
-Promod Puri

Shaeen Bagh Women Protest Unique

Indian women protest new citizenship laws, joining a global ‘fourth wave’ feminist movement

Women in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh neighborhood are protesting a new Indian citizenship law that they say will discriminate against Muslims, women – and, particularly, Muslim women.
Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Alka Kurian, University of Washington, Bothell

Women are among the strongest opponents of two new laws in India that threaten the citizenship rights of vulnerable groups like Muslims, poor women, oppressed castes and LGBTQ people.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed in December 2019, fast-tracks Indian citizenship for undocumented refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan – but only those who are non-Muslim. Another law – the National Register of Citizens – will require all residents in India to furnish extensive legal documentation to prove their citizenship as soon as 2021.

Critics see the two laws as part of the government’s efforts to redefine the meaning of belonging in India and make this constitutionally secular country a Hindu nation.

Since Dec. 4, 2019, Indians of all ages, ethnicities and religions have been protesting the new citizenship initiatives in scattered but complementary nationwide demonstrations. The uprisings have persisted through weeks of arrests, beatings and even killings across India by the police.

But the most enduring pocket of resistance is an around-the-clock sit-in of mostly hijab-wearing women in a working-class Delhi neighborhood called Shaheen Bagh.

Women take charge

Since Dec. 15, 2019, women of all ages – from students to 90-year-old grandmothers – have abandoned their daily duties and braved near-freezing temperatures to block a major highway in the Indian capital.

This is a striking act of resistance in a patriarchal country where women – but particularly Muslim women – have historically had their rights denied.

The Shaheen Bagh movement uses both novel and traditional forms of protests, including marches, silent sit-ins and musical performances.
Biplov Bhuyan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The Shaheen Bagh protests are as novel in their methods as they are in their makeup. Protesters are using artwork, book readings, lectures, poetry recitals, songs, interfaith prayers and communal cooking to explain their resistance to citizenship laws that, they say, will discriminate against not just Muslims but also women, who usually don’t have state or property papers in their own names.

On Jan. 11, women in the Indian city of Kolkata performed a Bengali-language version of a Chilean feminist anthem called “The Rapist is You.” This choreographed public flash dance, first staged in Santiago, Chile in November 2019, calls out the police, judiciary and government for violating women’s human rights.

A dangerous place for women

India is the world’s most dangerous country for women, according to the Thompson Reuters Foundation. One-third of married women are physically abused. Two-thirds of rapes go unpunished.

Gender discrimination is so pervasive that around 1 million female fetuses are aborted each year. In some parts of India, there are 126 men for every 100 women.

Indian women have come together in protest before, to speak out against these and other issues. But most prior women’s protests were limited in scope and geography. The 2012 brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old Delhi woman – which sparked nationwide protests – was a watershed moment. All at once, the country witnessed the power of women’s rage.

The current women-led anti-citizenship law demonstrations are even greater in number and power. Beyond Shaheen Bagh, Indian women across caste, religion and ethnicity are putting their bodies and reputations on the line.

A Shaheen Bagh protest song.

Female students are intervening to shield fellow students from police violence at campus protests. Actresses from Bollywood, India’s film industry, are speaking out against gender violence, too.

Women’s secular agenda

With their non-violent tactics and inclusive strategy, the Shaheen Bagh women are proving to be effective critics of the government’s Hindu-centric agenda. Their leaderless epicenter of resistance raises up national symbols like the Indian flag, the national anthem and the Indian Constitution as reminders that India is secular and plural – a place where people can be both Muslim and Indian.

The Shaheen Bagh movement’s novel and enduring strategy has triggered activism elsewhere in the country.

Thousands of women in the northern Indian city of Lucknow started their own sit-in in late January. Similar “Shaheen Baghs” have sprung up since, in the cities of Patna and even Chennai, which is located 1,500 miles from Delhi.

Anti-citizenship law protests in India’s Assam State, Feb. 16, 2020.
Anuwar Ali Hazarika/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Global women’s spring

India’s Shaheen Bagh protests form part of a broader global trend in women’s movements. Worldwide, female activists are combining attention to women’s issues with a wider call for social justice across gender, class and geographic borders.

In January 2019 alone, women in nearly 90 countries took to the streets demanding equal pay, reproductive rights and the end of violence. Young women were also at the forefront of the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Sudan, Brazil and Colombia.

As I write in my 2017 book, such inclusive activism is the defining characteristic of what’s called “fourth wave feminism.”

There isn’t a common definition of the first three feminist waves. In the United States, they generally refer to the early 20th century suffragette movement, the radical women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the more mainstream feminism of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Fourth wave feminism appears to be more universal. Today’s activists fully embrace the idea that women’s freedom means little if other groups are still oppressed. With its economic critique, disavowal of caste oppression and solidarity across religious divides, India’s Shaheen Bagh sit-in shares attributes with the women’s uprisings in Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and beyond.

The last time women came together in such numbers worldwide was the #MeToo movement, a campaign against sexual harassment which emerged on social media in the United States in 2017 and quickly spread across the globe.

Shaheen Bagh and similarly far-reaching women’s uprisings underway in other countries take #MeToo to the next level, moving from a purely feminist agenda to a wider call for social justice. Women protesters want rights – not just for themselves, but human rights for all.

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Alka Kurian, Senior Lecturer, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Internet: A Platform for both false and true information

By Promod Puri

Education does not stop after school, college, or university studies. Rather it continues. Pursuing knowledge in the fields already studied along with new interests of learning is part of lifelong schooling.

As formal education ends in the early part of life, the journey to explore and gain knowledge goes on. At the same time, knowledge itself keeps expanding.  Once the learning drive starts there is no stop on the knowledge track.

However, knowledge has to be followed intelligently and with an open mind.

Its credibility and perception are based on truth and rationales. As our continuing education advances, it generates new studies, thoughts, theories, meanings, and interpretations. With that growth, knowledge gets enriched.

We are the seekers of knowledge as well as its creator, developer, and distributor.

It is at this helm that we can discern its traditional outlets, like books and libraries, newspapers and magazines, radio, and television, etc. However, these sources are being outpaced and outdated by the surge in the internet and social media.

And this is where we alert ourselves to establish the authenticity and credibility of knowledge attained from online sources. It can prove itself to be wrong and deceptive when produced and shared thru various internet channels.

The buzz word lately is the generation of fake news or information and its circulation.

Google, Emails, Twitter, Facebook, and myriad of websites, etc. are the vehicles moved by our fingertips for mass distribution of news, views, and learnings along with fake stories and misinformation. In the latter case production of such material is so professionally done that unreal casts into real. Believability is established, and its mass circulation starts rolling.

The production of fake news, besides posing a serious threat to bona fide information and knowledge, is a lucrative business as well. When a fabricated story gets viral on search engines like Google and social media like Facebook, it generates money for fake news manufacturers. The “clicks” and “shares” are the measuring indicators in the booms of this illicit business.

Since the blight of fake news is going to be part of knowledge gathering, the acceptance or rejection of pseudo or genuine information depends on our sensitivity and perception, empathy or apathy. Our personal preferences also play a determining role to keep us informed or misinformed while we seek knowledge.

Usually, we select only that information that fits well within our interests, mindset biases, and beliefs.

The production of fake or false news or information, or creation of a thought, an ideology or a campaign, and its spread covers most topics and issues from politics to religion and culture, sciences to medicines, and economics to statistics, etc.

Fabricated information supporting a concept, cult, crusade of morally-revolting motives not only contaminate true knowledge but it is misleading and sinister as well. As of consequence, information literacy is corrupted.

When a fake story or picture on the internet and its various outlets is released, its authenticity is seldom doubted especially by those readers who share its viewpoint.

Professional “gatekeepers” like editors of newspapers or magazines, who reject, allow, or edit an incoming news story or some viewpoints in the traditional institutions, are not the norms in the receiving and delivery systems of the information technology.

Our temperaments, beliefs and even our personal motives are now the “gatekeepers” in the selection and sharing of information. When these attitudes are constantly and willingly being exposed to fake information or stories, fanaticism is created, consolidated, and validated. Convictions and extreme beliefs keep the doors of truth and rationality close.

DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM

Despite this inevitable abuse of the system, the internet provides us a democratic platform that was till now monopolized by the traditional print and electronic media. Social media are open, free, and readily available along with a profusion of websites for the dissemination of information, true or false, and viewpoint, rational or irrational.

The phenomenon has led to the explosion of knowledge in its creation, presentation, and sharing. This is not anymore the domain of only professional writers, intellectuals, publishers, or editors.

The Internet and online social media offer the space to express oneself in few words or in lengthy essays without editing or cuts and censorship. A submission, rejected by conventional book publishers, newspapers, or magazine editors, finds easy alternative outlets through various internet channels and online self-publishing with much wider exposure.

Unlike the traditional sources of knowledge, the net in its brief history has spread itself into a vast field covered with mounds of information and knowledge. Personally speaking, I wrote “Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs, and Traditions” by just going thru the medium of the internet carrying a wealth of relevant articles, research papers, manuscripts, scriptures, and stories.

Numerous reputed and credible websites like Wikipedia are loaded with extensive knowledge to do research, study or write on any subject of interest.

The internet has liberated knowledge for its easy reach and attainment. But in this endeavor, Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw advises: “beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance”.

(Promod Puri is Vancouver, Canada-based writer, and author of Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs, And Traditions. Websites: promodpuri.com, progressivehindudialogue.com, promodpuri.blogspot.com).

Blasphemy And Apostasy In Islam Are More Political Than Religious


Pakistani Islamists march to protest the Supreme Court lenient treatment of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Feb. 1, 2019. ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images

By Ahmet T. Kuru, San Diego State University

Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer in Pakistan, had been imprisoned for six years when he was sentenced to death in December 2019. The charge: blasphemy, specifically insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

Pakistan has the world’s second strictest blasphemy laws after Iran, according to U.S. Commision on International Religious Freedom.

Hafeez, whose death sentence is under appeal, is one of about 1,500 Pakistanis charged with blasphemy, or sacrilegious speech, over the last three decades. No executions have taken place.

But since 1990 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes who accused them of insulting Islam. Several people who defend the accused have been killed, too, including one of Hafeez’s lawyers and two high-level politicians who publicly opposed the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted for verbally insulting Prophet Muhammad. Though Bibi was acquitted in 2019, she fled Pakistan.

Blasphemy and apostasy

Of 71 countries that criminalize blasphemy, 32 are majority Muslim. Punishment and enforcement of these laws varies.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Among non-Muslim-majority cases, the harshest blasphemy laws are in Italy, where the maximum penalty is three years in prison.

Half of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries have additional laws banning apostasy, meaning people may be punished for leaving Islam. All countries with apostasy laws are Muslim-majority except India. Apostasy is often charged along with blasphemy.

This class of religious laws is quite popular in some Muslim countries. According to a 2013 Pew survey, about 75% of respondents in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia favor making sharia, or Islamic law, the official law of the land.

Among those who support sharia, around 25% in Southeast Asia, 50% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 75% in South Asia say they support “executing those who leave Islam” – that is, they support laws punishing apostasy with death.

A factory torched by an angry mob in Jhelum, Punjab province, Pakistan, after one of its employees was accused of desecrating the Quran, Nov. 21, 2015. STR/AFP via Getty Images

The ulema and the state

My 2019 book “Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment” traces the root of blasphemy and apostasy laws in the Muslim world back to a historic alliance between Islamic scholars and government.

Starting around the year 1050, certain Sunni scholars of law and theology, called the “ulema,” began working closely with political rulers to challenge what they considered to be the sacrilegious influence of Muslim philosophers on society.

Muslim philosophers had for three centuries been making major contributions to mathematics, physics and medicine. They developed the Arabic number system used across the West today and invented a forerunner of the modern camera.

The conservative ulema felt that these philosophers were inappropriately influenced by Greek philosophy and Shia Islam against Sunni beliefs. The most prominent in consolidating Sunni orthodoxy was the brilliant and respected Islamic scholar Ghazali, who died in the year 1111.

In several influential books still widely read today, Ghazali declared two long-dead leading Muslim philosophers, Farabi and Ibn Sina, apostates for their unorthodox views on God’s power and the nature of resurrection. Their followers, Ghazali wrote, could be punished with death.

As modern-day historians Omid Safi and Frank Griffel assert, Ghazali’s declaration provided justification to Muslim sultans from the 12th century onward who wished to persecute – even executethinkers seen as threats to conservative religious rule.

This “ulema-state alliance,” as I call it, began in the mid-11th century in Central Asia, Iran and Iraq and a century later spread to Syria, Egypt and North Africa. In these regimes, questioning religious orthodoxy and political authority wasn’t merely dissent – it was apostasy.

Wrong direction

Parts of Western Europe were ruled by a similar alliance between the Catholic Church and monarchs. These governments assaulted free thinking, too. During the Spanish Inquisition, between the 16th and 18th centuries, thousands of people were tortured and killed for apostasy.

Blasphemy laws were also in place, if infrequently used, in various European countries until recently. Denmark, Ireland and Malta all recently repealed their laws.

But they persist in many parts of the Muslim world.

In Pakistan, the military dictator Zia ul Haq, who ruled the country from 1978 to 1988, is responsible for its harsh blasphemy laws. An ally of the ulema, Zia updated blasphemy laws – written by British colonizers to avoid interreligious conflict – to defend specifically Sunni Islam and increased the maximum punishment to death.

From the 1920s until Zia, these laws had been applied only about a dozen times. Since then they have become a powerful tool for crushing dissent.

Some dozen Muslim countries have undergone a similar process over the past four decades, including Iran and Egypt.

Dissenting voices in Islam

The conservative ulema base their case for blasphemy and apostasy laws on a few reported sayings of Prophet Muhammad, known as hadith, primarily: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”

But many Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals reject this view as radical. They argue that Prophet Muhammad never executed anyone for apostasy, nor encouraged his followers to do so.

Nor is criminalizing sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Quran. It contains over 100 verses encouraging peace, freedom of conscience and religious tolerance.

In chapter 2, verse 256, the Quran states, “There is no coercion in religion.” Chapter 4, verse 140 urges Muslims to simply leave blasphemous conversations: “When you hear the verses of God being rejected and mocked, do not sit with them.”

By using their political connections and historical authority to interpret Islam, however, the conservative ulema have marginalized more moderate voices.

Reaction to global Islamophobia

Debates about blasphemy and apostasy laws among Muslims are influenced by international affairs.

Across the globe, Muslim minorities – including the Palestinians, Chechens of Russia, Kashmiris of India, Rohingya of Mymanmar and Uighurs of China – have experienced severe persecution. No other religion is so widely targeted in so many different countries.

The Rohingya of Myanmar are among several Muslim minorities facing persecution worldwide. Rakhine state, Myanmar, Jan. 13, 2020. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Alongside persecution are some Western policies that discriminate against Muslims, such as laws prohibiting headscarves in schools and the U.S. ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Such Islamaphobic laws and policies can create the impression that Muslims are under siege and provide an excuse that punishing sacrilege is a defense of the faith.

Instead, I find, such harsh religious rules can contribute to anti-Muslim stereotypes. Some of my Turkish relatives even discourage my work on this topic, fearing it fuels Islamophobia.

But my research shows that criminalizing blasphemy and apostasy is more political than it is religious. The Quran does not require punishing sacrilege: authoritarian politics do.

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What Causes Native Chiefs Opposition To Gas Pipelines

Among the First Nation communities, there are Hereditary Chiefs and the “elected” chiefs.

And this institutional binary is the primary reason that the proposed natural gas pipeline issue has put Canada in a standstill spot with blockades stopping rail and road traffics across the country.

In the traditional form of First Nations governance, Hereditary chiefs are higher than elected Chiefs, especially on issues like this one, where their lands and cultures are in danger by encroaching developments.

The epicenter of the Canada-wide protests is the indigenous lands of Wet’suwet’en outside the village of Burns Lake in British Columbia.

The proposed pipeline would pass through the Wet’suwet’en lands that have not been permitted by the Hereditary Chiefs.

However, of the five Wet’suwet’en elected band chiefs, only the Hagwilget Village Council declined to sign benefits agreements with the LNG pipeline. The remaining four elected Chiefs signed the go-ahead arrangement.

It is being claimed that “based on Wet’suwet’en and Canadian law, it’s ultimately the hereditary chiefs who have jurisdiction to the territory, and they have been clear about their aim—to assert self-governance over their land and demand a nation-to-nation relationship with Canada.”

The opposing positions of two sets of Chiefs are the cause of the current situation over the Native blockades that are making headlines in Canada.

In the latest development, two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have launched a constitutional challenge against the Trudeau government in the federal court. It seeks commitment from Ottawa that to achieve climate targets, the government must “modify or cancel” energy projects like the one under construction in BC by the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The court challenge, in its statement, says that “Canada has a constitutional obligation to adhere to its emissions targets under the Paris Agreement.”

Coastal GasLink has a  $6.6-billion pipeline project from northeast BC that would deliver natural gas to LNG Canada. The latter is building an $18-billion terminal in Kitimat, BC, to export liquefied natural gas to Asia.

Kitimat is booming with construction works, creating plenty of jobs, mainly benefitting the Native workers. A big boost to the local economy is what the expectations are amid environmental concerns, including some erosion in the traditions and cultures of the Wet’nuwet’en nations.

 (Promod Puri worked as editor of the New Nation, a Native and Metis weekly newspaper from Winnipeg in the early ‘70s. he is a journalist, writer, and author of Hinduism beyond rituals, customs, and traditions.) 

Kejriwal’s Simple Ideology Is Good Governance  

330px-Arvind_Kejriwal_September_02,_2017_cropDelhi election straight three-time winner Arvind Kejriwal is politically neither a Leftist nor a Rightist. His politics is simplistic in its approach to have honest and good governance. It seeks real results nor promises.

Kejriwal’s swift rise and popularity after his dedicated support to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare made him a new class of leader who does not show leanings towards the worn-out Left and Right political platforms. Some Leftists tried to steer the leadership away from him in the early stage of his political entrance, but he fought back. They were out from his natural turf.

Kejriwal is a grassroots political worker. He is, in the real sense a simple “aam aadmi.” That means an ordinary person determined to make his moves in the tangled and corrupt politics of contemporary India.

In fact, under the lamp of India’s shadowy Modi’s rule, Kejriwal offers a luminous light of good, secular, and democratic governance in the capital city-state of Delhi.

By Promod Puri

THE BINARY OF LEFT AND RIGHT

The trait of being socially or politically Left or Right is that the Left is anti-religious and the Right is fanatic. The former ridicules and rejects religion, and the latter is narcissistically illiterate about it.
Promod Puri

What Does Goddess Kali’s Unusual And Scary Look Mean

330px-Kali_by_Raja_Ravi_VarmaBy Promod Puri

In my understanding of Hinduism, there is more in its nature of study and deliberations than just religion.

It is in this context that the chapter of Goddess Kali divulges an aspect of Hindu thought and philosophy that is apart from rationality, spirituality, morality, and myths.

Goddess Kali is an exciting and intriguing reading. In addition to her ritualistic adoration and worshipping, the study reveals her unique temperament that adds to the diverse outlook of Hinduism.

                        (Painting by Raja Ravi Varma)  

Kali’s appearance is dark blue with sunken eyes. In her long blood-red tongue sticking out in a ferocious image, Kali is typically portrayed with a scary and angry stare.

Her scantly covered body has a long garland of severed skulls of demons whom she destroyed on the appeal of her followers. And the short skirt she wears is the ripped-out arms of the defeated enemies.

Kali is often portrayed in the blood-thirsty and feral image. There is blood dripping from the chopped heads of demons that she holds in her arms. Her mood is terrifying and unruly. Indeed, not a pleasant sight when we see other Hindu goddesses nicely wrapped in colorful sarees and wearing beautiful jewelry.

Kali’s overall personality is revealed in an astounding story when she defeated a powerful demon by the name of Raktabija. Other female deities fought against him. They were able to wound him. But the story goes like this that every drop from each wound inflicted on him would turn into a clone of demon Raktabija. Thus, fighting against him by the deities meant increasing an army of his duplicates.

The deities finally gave up. They requested Kali to finish the demon because only she had the divine Shakti, meaning power, to kill him.

With gaping mouth, her tongue lolling out, having deep reddish eyes, filling the regions of the sky with her roars, Kali singlehandedly fought the battle with the demon and the army of his own replicas. Kali eventually defeated him by sucking his blood before it could reach the ground. Raktabija, along with his army of duplicates, were all finished. Her winning trophies were the several heads of the devil around her neck.

In euphoria, she went into a wild dance. The more she danced, the wilder and turbulent it became. She was rampaging out of control. Her dancing swirls became so powerful that there was a fear Kali could destroy the world.

In that situation, Lord Shiva was sent to calm Kali down. He was successful but was stomped under her left foot. The forceful wild dance came to a halt. And the world was saved by Lord Shiva, who is himself attributed as lord of destruction.

Kali is often portrayed standing or dancing on Lord Shiva, who lies calm and prostrate beneath her foot. Acclaimed mythological artist Raja Ravi Varma captures the dance scene in one of his most famous paintings. Here Lord Shiva, one of Trinity Hindu gods, the others being Brahma and Vishnu, is seen under her foot.

Kali’s unusual portrayal in her body wears, wild and vicious looks, and the vigorous victory dance while Lord Shiva, a God himself, under her foot, are the materials for an interpretive view of her to establish what she represents.

Kali is a Hindu goddess of death, time, and destruction. She is the Shakti, representing the divine feminine power. Kali is like a mad storm, a typhoon, or a wildfire who, while in her furious crusade, does not spare anybody. She is a force of nature where her actions or motives are mystified as they defy reasons and explanations.

Kali is independent and not worried about the results of her actions. Her moves can’t be disciplined. She is a demon slayer, and her psyche represents justifiable female resentment and rage.

Although she is paired with Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. But here as Kali, she represents a personality that is dark, wild, and angry. Her other image as being Parvati or goddess Gauri is that of calm and tranquil temperament.

In this duality, and with her four, eight, or ten arms that carry a mix of belligerent and luminous symbolisms, Kali represents womanhood in multi portraits. The many roles contemporary woman juggles, the challenges, and the fights or battles she undertakes are what goddess Kali represents.

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She is a symbol of contemporary womanhood, especially in the West. Kali was on the cover page of the first edition of Ms. Magazine. Its artist Miriam Wosk drew a colorful illustration featuring a pregnant woman with eight arms symbolizing the multi-tasking role of women now and for generations. Rolling Stones, the English rock band, had its logo of “tongue and lip design” adopted out of the stuck out tongue of Kali.

Despite her portrayed terrible look, Kali is considered the kindest and loving goddess. Ma-Kali, mother Kali, is her revered status in the iconology of Hindu gods. She is regarded as the mother of the entire universe, and a divine protector.

Kali is a free goddess who is ready to fight the evil in any Yuga.

(Promod Puri is a journalist, writer, and author of Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs, And Traditions.)

DEMOCRACY CRADLE OF DICTATORSHIP

Democratic freedoms breed authoritarianism. Consolidation of power, achieved through democratic means, is a tempting phenomenon. Regimes are slowly being wrapped up in totalitarianism or dictatorship.

Nationalism and patriotism are aroused. The fear factor is created by introducing “foreign enemies”. Minorities are being targeted.

To streamline the influence of fear, several practices and arrangements are mobilized. Judiciary, the intelligence agencies, the income tax department, the police forces, state-sponsored “terrorism” are the channels to move democracy towards autocracy.

In this exercise, the media is disciplined or regulated for the smooth acceptance of manufactured propagated material.

It is a camouflaged process where the majority population naively gets adapted with acceptable disturbance mainly for nationalistic or patriotic alarms.

The fear factor permeates into the culture of silence and apathy. And authoritarianism survives till the next elections if these are not corrupted.

-By Promod Puri

BJP’S LEGACY COMPARED TO CONGRESS

If the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India is responsible for the structural damage of democracy in India under the fervency of its Hindutva agenda, then the record of the Congress is not clean either.

Under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, India’s democracy was subverted overnight with the declaration of Emergency in 1975. However, in the subsequent national election, the Congress Party was mercilessly beaten. Thanks to the intactness of the Election Commission that was not tinkered with weaponry of the Indira Gandhi emergency.

In that respect, we can say there was resilience in India’s democracy.

But now, it is the institutional chiseling that has been purposely done to carve out a non-secular nation based on narrow confines of the Hindutva agenda.

The latest salvo being the amendment of the Citizenship Act with its discriminatory provision to offer citizenship to all the refugees except Muslims. This is followed by the upcoming National Registry of Citizenship that could be impacted by the corrupt bureaucratic system biased towards the Muslim population. It has already happened in the state of Assam.

Hindutva is an agenda that is fundamentally anti-Hindu. The identity of Hinduism lies in its wide-open structure where liberal, secular and diverse customs and traditions co-exist and flourish.

Pursuing the Hindutva agenda also goes against the very spirit of democratic India in which its national institutions play non-religious, non-political, professional and bureaucratic roles crucial for unbiased, audited and scrutinized direction to the governing party in the conduct of nation’s business.

But when these institutions are politically fixed, controlled and manipulated or even nixed by the governing party to uphold its power base then the damage is being done to them.

And this is where the BJP’s legacy, compared to the Congress Party, is being established by its leadership.

-By Promod Puri

NEED TO GO BEYOND GDP

Elected politicians all over the globe often boast about their economic achievements when their countries’ GDP goes up. And countrymen are impressed.

For example, Trump can pride himself as the USA’s GDP has grown to $21.7 trillion last year, a massive gain that makes the country the most significant economic power in the world.

GDP stands for gross domestic product, meaning the total market value of all the goods and services produced within the country. That gross production includes everything produced and purchased, services generated and bought, and investments made.

When the GDP number of a given year is divided by the population figure of the country, the result is taken as a reflection of the living standard of its citizens.

And this where the GDP gives quite a false impression about the actual well being of a nation. Under its blanket coverage are the stark realities of poverty, homelessness, and even hunger.

These realities are suppressed by governments’ public relations campaign that the country is doing great as per the rising GDP numbers.

GDP is a useful tool creating a false impression that the nation is economically well managed.

Since it does not reflect the true nature of the country’s well being as experienced by all its citizens, GDP needs to go beyond its present valuation of produced goods and services.

-Promod Puri