Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is obama Black or the Human being First!

Is Barak Obama Black ?

Is Barak Obama Black ?

Ajoy Roy


Although I was not crazy like my many countrymen in Bangladesh and elsewhere over the landside victory of democrat Barak Hosen Obama, I was glad. Because like many Americans I also got tired of Junior Bush's way of handling American politics and policies, which surely affected rest of the world too including Bangladesh. America needed a desperate change from Bush administration - a change that can inspire the nation once again. In the eye of the world community America has become morally, economically even culturally a degraded state. Only a phenomenal change can save them, the Americans rightly realized. They knew that a demoralized republican president like John McCain is not the man who can bring the most needed change. Needless to say the majority of Americans, white, black, yellow or brown found in Obama the man who can bring the change and inspire the nation.


Americans put Obama in the White-house not because he is black, but because of his ideals, thoughts, and programmes of national as well as international interest. But because he is a zealous democrat believing in unity of American people as a whole and strength of the people. Therefore, his call for working together with no matter, republicans or democrats is not just a victorious rhetoric utterance. I welcomed the victory of Obama because he was a democrat candidate with commitment and dedication, not as an individual with whatever excellent qualities he might have. I supported his candidacy and welcomed his victory not because he is a Black American, but because he is liberal and secularist. And I believe most of the electorate colleges voted him not that he is black. Those who think that he overwhelmly won the election as his skin is black are doing injustice to the white Americans, who are the numerically far superior and were key factors of victory of Obama and not the black Americans. And I believe that this year's election is probably finest expression of overcoming colour prejudice by the American people. Many political pundits of Bangladesh apprehended that the white Americans, though manifestedly supported non-white Obama, will vote for McCain when they enter the secluded room. How pathetically these pundits have been proved foolish.


One thing puzzled me why the Bangladeshis in Dhaka got crazy on the election night as if they were participating in their own election. And you have to be in Dhaka to see how these people celebrated the victory of Obama. This is possible only in Dhaka. During world cup football matches people go crazy for Argentina or Brazil, but why ? What a sentimental people are we! In gossip circles, in restaurant, office tables only topic of discussion is the victory of Obama, as if his own person has been put in the white-house. What astonished me that these people took pride that Obama is black, some go further saying that he is a Moslem. In one such discussion table in a local bank, where apart from me a TV compeer was present, when I asked one gentleman with dark black skin rejoicing the victory, 'Are you a Black ?'. He immediately reacted sharply denying that he is black. Such skin sensitive we are. I further asked him 'why are you then supporting a black candidate?' The man fumbled saying, 'no no, I supported him for his political opinions and qualities. And, he is a Muslim.' There you are! Obama did not win the election for his black colour, nor his religious faith. Many Bangladeshis in Dhaka thought that He is a Muslim (sic).


Real challenge of the president elect Obama is lying ahead. Generation of hopes and aspirations is one thing and materialization of those things is another thing. I am a pragmatic man, and I don't see Obama has a magic band. In coming years he will have to compromise on many issues, national & international. As an American he has to keep the idea of most American's believe that 'America is the leader of the world community' alive. He has to take pragmatic steps to ease the tension raised because of newly generated East-West cold war created by the recent Bush policy. He has to revolutionize the Middle East & Iran issues to safeguard the national interest of USA. Above all, he has to take sufficiently effective measures against economic recession resulting from following wrong policy of 'global free market economy' and excessive dependence on 'hyper capitalism' by the American for years after years. In the process, few rich Americans have become richer and wealthier, thereby controlling the entire economy by very few. But common men including toiling masses and smaller capitalists group became poorer and poorer. Even under Obama regime, these very few will try to keep upholding every aspect American supremacy, will try to keep control over the world strategic resources, will try continuing active support to Israelis. Because these are considered as America's national interest. Surely Obama cannot go to take measures that may please me and you beyond country's 'national interest'. Will or can Obama redefine his country's 'national interest' that will enshrine essence of humanism in American thought, policy and administration. I really wonder. But surely he can make an honest effort, a sincere humble beginning.


Why are we calling Obama a Black? Is it because we feel some sort of nearness with him- a kinship feeling with him as we being non white or coloured, if not black? Or is it emanated from our latent hatred towards the white Americans? Are we not then encouraging doctrine of another kind of apartheid ? Many Bengalis in Dhaka see Obama's victory as the conquer of America by the blacks, at least the beginning of it. It is a pity that they do not see Obama's victory as the victory of liberalism, victory of democracy, victory of secularism, and above all victory of great ideals of humanism


Why one should call the President elect a Black because his father was a black Kenyan ? Why do we want to expose his Muslim identity because his father was a Muslim ? I remember in our days we used to cheer Mohammad Ali (previously Cassias Clay) to win every boxing fight not because of excellent skill but because he was a Black Muslim. Is it not an expression of communalism in milder form?


If one claims Obama a black as well as a Muslim because of his father's colour and religion, then one can equally claim him as white and a Christian for his mother's

Colour (white) and religion (Christianity)


I am not sure, how religious Mr. Obama is. But his official religion is 'United Church of Christ', a small school of Protestant Church. I would rather prefer to call him just Obama, a man with noble ideas, at best a non white racially speaking.


In today's USA a new non-white, non-black mixed generation has come up over the years through intermingling between whites, blacks, browns and yellows. If Obama is called black then we sub-continental peoples, the black-brownish emetic Arabs of Middle East, most peoples of Latin America are too to be termed as blacks too ! I will finally raise the question in today's contest who are the blacks sociologically as well as anthropologically, and what right one has to call a person a black ?


Ajoy Roy


November 8, 2008

Prof. Ajoy K. Roy is a scientist and human rights activist writes from Bangladesh. he can be reached at

3 Responses to "Is Barak Obama Black ?"

  1. debs Says:

    Actually in Bangladesh, religion is a big barrier for growth. This particular religion is an obstacle for the overall development of any islamic country. Hope people realize it. I am affraid of thinking of real development of islamic countries. I talked with caucasian Professors and Ph.D. degree holders from USA and Europe, also people from middle east, and Ph.D. degree holders from Israel. On one thing, everyone agreed that majority people of islamic countries belong to a pattern. I asked muslim Ph.D. degree holders about the writings of "QURAN". Then these muslims said that real islam is "GOOD". But no one knows what is real islam. When I asked more, then these muslims said they are not allowed to discuss on islam. When muslims discuss religion, they dont follow any logic. They are blind followers. And they have a false ego. Divine God does not have any special preference for any particular religion. Peace be upon all the people all over the world. Thanks.

  2. Irtishad Ahmad Says:

    A thought-provoking article from Dr. Ajoy Roy.
    In response to Dr. Roy's last question I would like to say that calling someone 'black' because of his/her race is kind of outdated in the USA nowadays. A more socially acceptable and politically correct term is 'African-American.'
    I agree with Dr. Roy, Barrack Obama won the election not because he was an African-American. But we need to recognize that he won despite the fact that he was a non-white. And, there lies the historic significance of his victory.

  3. Mezbah Jowher Says:

    Lovely article with fine logical attributes. I read Prof. Roy's essays in Bangla. He maintains the same if not better standard here too.
    Wishing his good health.
    08 Nov-2008

Bipin Shroff

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Anotomy of R S S -Sangh Parivar.

Anatomy of Sangh Parivar


Ram Puniyani


The arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in the context of Malegaon blasts of September 29, 2008 has been an important step in the investigation of bomb blasts which have been blowing the social peace and communal amity. Along with her the arrest of army officers, retired and serving, has unfolded the whole new dimension about investigation of acts of terror. The involvement of Bhonsala Military School has also come under the scanner of investigating agencies.


The Sadhvi has been the member of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad and Durga Vahini, which are the parts of Sangh parivar, before she adorned the saffron robe. Sangh parivar is the word coined by the RSS and its progeny for the whole combine, all of them put together. RSS acts as the central controller and its trained volunteers, swayamsevaks, set up and manage different organizations to pursue the goals of RSS.


Sadhvi's connections with BJP/RSS top leadership came to the surface and the BJP leadership in particular, distanced itself from her, initially. The ideological and political association was attempted to be played down to a mere acquaintance. Disowning the member of its outfits, after they do the crime is nothing new for Sangh organizations. The first such disowning was done when RSS prachark Nathuram Godse murdered the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Since RSS was not keeping records of its members etc. Nathuram claimed in the court that he had nothing to do with RSS, despite the fact that he was a trained RSS volunteer (swayamsevak). In an interview given to 'The Times of India' (25 Jan 98), his brother Gopal Godse, who was also an accomplice in the murder, elaborated the apparent reasons for hiding their affiliation with RSS. "Technically and theoretically he (Nathuram) was a member (of RSS), but he stopped workings for it later. His statement in the court that he had left the RSS was to protect the RSS workers who would be imprisoned following the murder, on the understanding that they (RSS workers) would benefit from his dissociating himself…"


The second major disassociation has been that from Rajendra Pal, alias, Dara Singh who murdered Pastor Graham Steward Stains. His case in the courts was fought by BJP ex Minister Dilip Singh Judeo's brother. Dara Singh himself was an active worker of VHP, Bajrang Dal and other Sangh organizations. All this was denied shamelessly by RSS combine. And now come the one related to the Sadhvi.


After initial quiet on the issue, now the Hindutva parties (BJP, Shiv Sena) are raising the army of lawyers to fight the case for her. Now their plea is that every accused has a right to be defended. So far they have kept quiet when the lawyers of the accused in the acts of terror have been beaten up and many lawyers associations have resolved not to fight the cases of accused in cases of acts of terror.


It was also stated by BJP spokesperson that there is no evidence, proof of involvement of the Sadhvi. The technicalities of this proof in this case apart one will like to know how many times, in how many cases of arrest of 'alleged Muslim terrorists' this question is raised. Their being a Muslim is a good enough proof of being a terrorist in this scheme of things propagated by RSS combine, and even the encounters, fake most of them, are welcomed by a section of these.


Then came the argument that since Sadhvi is a follower of 'cultural nationalism', she can't be a terrorist! Here the partisan attitude of those involved in this politics is clear. What they are referring to by cultural nationalism is Hindu nationalism. As such cultural nationalism has been promoted by the practitioners of politics in the name of religion. Be it Muslim terrorists taught in the US promoted Madrassas in Pakistan in yesteryears or the fundamentalists, doing politics in the name of any religion. In case of Hindutva, this cultural nationalism is the opposite of democratic nationalism, where diversity and equality of all is the foundation of the political ethos.


In case of RSS, cultural nationalism, is based on the some religious texts and the culture of elite Hindus, which gives priority to the Brahminical values, the values of caste and gender based inequality. Democratic nationalism has its focus on respecting and approving all cultures and   religions, while in RSS scheme of cultural nationalism the Brahminical culture is the base of political nationalism. So what label does one put to the acts of Godse and Dara Singh? Both of them were steeped in the Cultural nationalism propagated by RSS combine. The formula that terrorism done by Muslims is anti national and the acts done by the ilk of Sadhvi are nationalism defies all the logic. Any act of violation of the Indian law is anti national, there can't be separate set of laws for those indulging in violence and heinous crimes in the name of religion.


After initial hesitation, it started being said that she was pained by the terrorism committed by Muslims, so this revenge terrorism was meant to protect the Hindu society, and so subtle justification and approval for this variety of crime as being the answer to the terrorism done by Muslims. Some commentators are openly glorifying this and some others are quietly going by this logic. One can say that the Bajrang Dal and Sadhvi's ilk is not into terrorism because of so called Islamic terrorism, it is in this more due to the indoctrination which they have received through RSS indoctrination module. This indoctrination reduces all the political-social issues to the religious ones.


RSS indoctrination is carried out through its Shakha Baudhiks (Branch intellectual sessions) and camps. It says that this is nation belongs to Hindus alone. Here, the Muslims and Christians are foreigners, the secular people are trying to say that this country belongs to all the people, which is wrong. We need to ensure that these threats to Hindu nation are dealt with properly.


RSS type indoctrination has also created the myth that all terrorists are Muslim, deliberately overlooking that terrorists come from all the religious communities, but not due to religious reasons. The reasons behind terrorism are social, economic and political. Be it LTTE, Khalistanis, ULFA, Irish Republican army all have indulged in terrorism, the reasons being anything but religious. In RSS scheme of things all the acts of terror have been projected to be due to Islam and Muslims. So the two modules merge and create the mind set of Sadhvi or Bajrang Dal members who have died while making bombs in Nanded and Kanpur or members of Hindu Jagran Samiti who planted bombs in Thane near Mumbai.


The current involvement of army officers, Bhonsla Military School and the members of different wings of Sangh privar should not be a surprise if one sees the structure and functioning of RSS. RSS founded to oppose democracy and to work for Hindu nation has been working, indoctrinating and creating more and more organizations to fulfill it objective of Hindu nation, which in essence means to restore the feudal hierarchical values of caste and gender in Indian context, to work for status quo around the modern version of Brahminical system. Its trained swayamsevaks, have been on one hand directly entering the political formations, Bhatiay Janata Party, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarhti Parishad, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrma, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Munnani, Bajrang Dal, Samajik Samrasta Manch on one hand, creating subordinate organizations amongst women, Rashtra Seviak Samiti, Durga Vahini etc on the other hand. Vast layers of Saints, the likes Asaram Bapu or Sri Sri Ravishakar, or Narnedra Maharaj are ideologically on same wave length as RSS and through their work they lay the ground for the politics of RSS to flourish in different sections of society.


 Its second strategy has been that of infiltration in the different wings of state machinery, police, bureaucracy, Judiciary. On yet another layer its recruits have been working in the field of education and media by the mechanism of infiltration. Its hold and vicious grip on society cannot just be assessed by the electoral strength of BJP. That's why Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, in Staten Island could assert that first he is the swayam sevak of RSS and then the prime minister. That's why in 1977, when the Bharatiya Jansangh, previous avatar of BJP, who were part of Janata Party, were told to severe their links with RSS, they preferred to break the Janata party rather then severing their affiliation with RSS. Its strength comes from the earlier silent, by now violent, infiltration in all spheres of social and political activities. Its wing amongst retired military officers ensures that people like Retired army Officer Upadhyay is probably the part of the Malegaon and other such blasts.


Bhonsala military school has been managed by RSS in more ways than one, so not only it may be a place for hatching the conspiracies for blasts, but also for turning out recruits who can aid and assist this Sangh combine while serving in the army. Surprise is not that Bhonsla military school's connection with this politics is coming to surface, surprise is not that Upadhyay and Purohits' links are coming to surface so late; surprise is that how they hid it so long and so well?


Various components of RSS family sometimes have some differences also, but these are sorted out by the patriarch RSS, through subtle control and ideological mechanisms so that their cohesion with the goal to destroy democracy, through all the means, including using democratic platforms for the same, remains intact. Sadhvi is involved in the blasts or not, army officers or involved in these acts or not should hopefully come out despite their ideological plants scattered all over. What it has brought to our notice is the dangers of this multi headed hydra, which is working in the democratic system with a goal to abolish democracy itself and bring in Hindu nation, another name of fascist formation, abusing the Hindu religion, the religion of Kabir and Gandhi!


In RSS scheme of things the organizational affiliation comes second, the primary thing which they instill is the ideological subordination. Most of those involved in these acts will not have any remorse for what they did, as like the Al Qaeda variety, they are indoctrinated to believe that it is nationalism (Hindu in this case, in Al Qaeda variety it is Islamic nation of course) so what you are doing while instigating anti minority violence or while planting the bombs is for the service of your religion!


While superficially at loggerheads the ideological wavelength of RSS indoctrination is similar to the one used in Pakistani Madrassas for training Al Qaeda. Here the religion is different paradigms are same. To deal with such ideologies leading to acts of terror, what is also needed is to combat their ideological foundations.



Issues in Secular Politics

November 2008 II

For publication/circulation etc.

Bipin Shroff

Friday, October 31, 2008

How I became the Secular Humanist from the Muslim Fundamentalist !

By Dr. Khalid Sohail
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank Humanist Association ofCanada specially Kathy Meidell for arranging such a wonderful seminar. I feelhonored to be invited to share my story, my dilemmas and dreams and themilestones of my personal and philosophical journey from fundamentalism tohumanism. I hope it would give you people some insight into the struggles of all those men and women who grow up and live in traditional, conservative andreligious Muslim families, communities and cultures. After my book From Islam to Secular Humanism was published I was invited by many Muslims to have dinner and a heart to heart talk with them. They shared with me that in their hearts theywere atheists, agnostics, humanists or free thinkers but they were afraid to sharetheir truth publicly as they were nervous of the negative reactions of theirreligious families and communities. They were afraid of the prejudice,punishment and persecution. During those meetings I realized that there weremany closet atheists in the Muslim community. I was struck by the reality howreligion can suppress and silence peopleand even living in a free and secular country like Canada they had to hide their true self. How sad!
During my discussions I encouraged them to become members of thegrowing community of free thinkers. Some of them were surprised that I was soopen about my secular views and humanistic lifestyle. Many of them identifiedwith me and one of them told his wife, "Sweetheart, we have been married for 11years and we have 4 children. You always ask me how I became an atheist. I amnot a writer. Please read Dr Sohail's book. His story is not different than mine". Iwas glad that my story resonated with many open minded and non-traditional Muslims who wanted to leave God and Religion, become free thinkers and adopta humanistic lifestyle. Some of them said that before reading my book they did not know that they were humanists. So my story will give you an idea of the storyof many others who are still not ready to share their stories publicly.
I am quite aware that it is not easy to share the story of dilemmas and dreams of 40years in 40 minutes but I will share some of the highlights anddiscuss some of the milestones of my existential journey. At the end I would bemore than willing to answer your questions or respond to your emails toelaborate on the issues you would be interested in.
When I reflect on my past struggles I can easily divide my journey in fourstages.
First stage…Following a Religious Tradition
Second Stage…Following a Spiritual Tradition
Third Sage…Living in a Spiritual No- Man's land
Fourth Stage…Following Secular Tradition and embracing Humanism
Let me share the highlights of each stage.
There was a time
…I believed in holy war
…I believed all non-Muslims were my enemies
…I was willing to give my life for a holy cause
…I was willing to kill in the name of God..
Now when I think about those years, a cold chill runs down my spine and I feelashamed and embarrassed.
How could I think like that?
How could anybody think like that?
How can anybody believe in a merciful God and then be as cruel as to take ahuman life?
How can anybody kill a human being and then consider his cause noble andholy? (Ref 1)
Now when I ask myself, "How did I become a holy warrior when I was ateenager?" I think of a number of factors in my personal, social, political andreligious lives that might have contributed in developing such a violent psyche.
My parents used to live in India that had become a British Colony. Theresistance against British Rule that had started in 1857 had reached its climax in1940s. My parents and their families lived in Amratsar that had seen the tragedyof Jalianwala Bagh in which a British Army General had opened fire and killedmany innocent unarmed civilians. The wave of resistance, independence andfreedom became stronger with the passage of time. On one hand the Britishused the old colonial tactics of divide and rule, but on the other hand Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of Indian Congress Party, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, theleader of Muslim League could not resolve their conflicts peacefully and therewere violent confrontations between Muslims and Hindus, killing thousands of innocent civilians. It was the religious and political violence at its worst. Thepeaceful dream of freedom was turning into a violent nightmare. One glimpse ofthat violent confrontation is presented by Larry Collins and Dominic Lapierre intheir book Freedom at Midnight, vividly describing what happened on August 16,1946,
"At dawn Moslem mobs howling in a quasi-religious fervor came bursting from their slums, waving clubs, iron bars, shovels, any instrument capable ofsmashing in a human skull. Theycame in answer to a call issued by the MuslimLeague, proclaiming August 16 'Direct Action Day' to prove to Britain and the
Congress Party that India's Moslems were prepared 'to get Pakistan forthemselves' by 'Direct Action' if necessary.'
' They savagely beat to a pulp any Hindus in their path and left the bodiesin the city's open gutters. The terrified police simply disappeared. Soon tall pillarsof black smoke stretched up from a score of spots in the city, Hindu bazaars in afull blaze."
'Later, the Hindu mobs came storming out of their neighborhoods, lookingfor defenseless Moslems to slaughter. Never, in all the violent history hadCalcutta known twenty-four hours as savage, as packed with human viciousness.Like water-logged logs, scores of bloated cadavers bobbed down the HooghlyRiver toward the sea. Other corpses, savagely mutilated, littered the city streets."(Ref 2)
The conflicts between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs escalated and finally inAugust 1947 Pakistan came into existence and thousands of Muslim families lefttheir homes in India and went to Pakistan to save their lives. My parents and theirfamilies were part of those refugees.
My parents had an arranged marriage in 1950 and I was born two yearslater in 1952. In 1954, when my dad passed his Masters Examination inMathematics, he was offered a job at Government College in Kohat, Pakistan. At
the age of two I moved with my parents from Lahore to Kohat, not only to adifferent city, but also a differentprovince and culture. People all around usspoke Pushto while my parents did not understand a word of it. I can imagine thedifficulties they must have had to adjust to a traditional tribal culture, especiallywhen my mother rarely, if ever, left our home.
The difficulties, struggles and challenges became so stressful that my father hada nervous breakdown and was admitted to hospital when I was about ten yearsold.
I remember the day when, after frantically pacing back and forth in his room throughout the night, he finally lost control. My mother called one of hisfriends who took him to the hospital. He was so out of control that requiredrestraint. His hands and feet were tied to the bed. While the doctors and thenurses were trying to control him, I remember sitting on a windowsill in the nextroom praying to God for help. After a few days, his struggles lessened to thepoint that he was sent to Lahore to be with my mother's family who looked afterhim day and night for months. They had planned the nursing care in four-hour shifts so as not to leave him alone, because he surely would have done himselfserious injury or fled, never to be found. The unfortunate thing was that the familywould not let me see him, as they were apprehensive he might hurt me. Yet, mylove for my father was more powerful than their wish to keep me away. I used tosneak into his room quietly. He used to hug and kiss me and talked to me so very
affectionately with tears in his eyes. How could I know fear from this kind man?
When he finally recovered a few months later, he was a changed man. Hehad gone through a mystical transformation. Everybody thought he hadexperienced a nervous breakdown while he believed he had a spiritualbreakthrough. A non-religious person had become a deeply religious man.
Looking back now I sometimes wonder whether my father's illness playeda significant unconscious role in my choosing the profession of psychiatry,developing compassion for people with emotional problems and a special interestin understanding the mysteries of human mind.
After the mysterious transformation of my dad I remember both my parents
…reciting Quran daily
…praying regularly
….observing fasts every year
…paying zakaat (charity)
and praying to go to Mecca to perform Haj, the pilgrimage. Both my parents triedtheir best to provide a religious atmosphere for my upbringing. My mother startedteaching me Quran when I was only four and encouraged me to fast andpray when I reached the age of seven.. By the time I was eleven I had finished all thethirty chapters of Quran in Arabic. They succeeded in making me a dedicatedand devoted Muslim like themselves.
In 1965 Pakistan had a war with India that lasted for seventeen days. Blackouts became a regular feature every night. I saw bombs dropped that murdered andmutilated innocent people in villages.. People became very religious and fanaticand developed a burning hatred for Hindus that has not abated even today. I was so affected by the war myself that at the age of thirteen I used to fantasize aboutjoining the army and becoming part of the Islamic Armed Forces. I was taughtthat Hindus were our enemies and it was sacred to kill them as we were fighting a jihad, a holy war. We were also told by religious leaders that anyone who iskilled in the holy war is shaheed, a martyr, and goes directly to heaven.
Looking back now I remember the days when I believed in a PersonalGod, Prophets and Scriptures and never questioned miracles and angels. I hadblind faith in all of them. For a while I even joined a religious group calledTableeghi Jamaat that, like Jehovah Witness People in Canada, went from doorto door preaching the teachings of Islam and inviting people to mosque for prayers and religious sermons. Many times I arose at three a.m. in the darknessof early morning to offer special prayers and pray to God to convert the entireworld to Islam.
Now that I think of those years in my life I find it hard to believe that I was not only a dedicated and devoted Muslim, I was also militant and was a religiousfundamentalist. I feel embarrassed thinking about those years when I had blind
faith and was brainwashed by social conditioning but that is a reality and I have to humbly accept that. Reflecting on those days helps me communicate and havea dialogue with all those men and women who are still religious fundamentalistsand believe in holy wars. They not only try to convert others but are also willing to die and kill in the name of God and Religion.
When I started studying science it introduced me to rational and logical thinkingthat questioned the blind faith of religion. The more I developed critical andanalytical thinking the more I experienced a conflict between teachings of religionbased on divine revelations and logical thinking of science. That ongoing painfulconflict led to sleepless nights and I went through a turbulent phase in myadolescence that I identified as an 'extended intellectual nightmare'.
One of the tragedies was that my teachers of science had little interest orin depth knowledge of religion and scriptures,and the religious leaders I knew had no sound knowledge or understanding of the fundamentals of science.Science and Religion were two banks of the river in the cultural flow I grew up in,existing opposite to each other but never coming together. I was desperate to find a bridge between religion and science and resolve my intellectual andemotional conflicts. When I was disappointed in my parents, teachers andreligious leaders as they could not answer my questions, I approached the
libraries and became an avid reader myself. I realized that I had to find my ownanswers to my special questions.
The more I studied science the more I felt comfortable with the disciplinesof logical, rational, analytical and critical thinking. I learnt that the universe ranaccording to the laws of nature and the more we understood those laws the morewe could solve the mysteries of nature. It was such an exciting and wonderfulexperience. I realized that those laws were objective and universal and I do nothave to rely on the will of a Personal God to understand the natural phenomena.I remember the day when hundreds of people gathered in a big mosque ofEidgah and I asked an old man why they were praying. He said they werepraying for rain. I wondered how prayers could bring the rain. When it did not rain for weeks I went back to him and asked him why it did not rain. He said thepeople who prayed were not good Muslims and God was angry with them. His comments made me aware of an angry and punitive God that produced feelings of guilt and fear in my heart.
When I went to medical school I studied science related to human illnesses andtheir treatments. I realized that by studying medicine I could help the sick peopleand relieve their suffering. It was a great feeling to know that science offered ahealing promise to humanity.
While studying medicine I was also fascinated with embryology. That was thefirst time I was introduced to Darwin's Theory of Evolution and I could understandthat by studying human embryos we could understand how the journey ofmillions of years of evolution is passed in a few months in the mother's womb. Iwas amazed to see how human embryo in the first few weeks was similar to theembryos of other animals. Darwin's theory was the beginning of understanding life on planet earth in a scientific way. I was so excited learning all thosewonderful things in the medical school.
Alongside studying science and medicine I also had a keen interest in literature. I studied poetry and fiction and plays and started writing poems and stories andessays that were published in my college magazines. I was pleased to see mycreative writings being liked and appreciated. Of all the Urdu writers I studied theone that impressed me the most was Saadat Hasan Minto. He had written somewonderful short stories about the tragedies of 1947 killings. In one of his storieshe wrote, ' Why do you say that one hundred Muslims went to heaven and onehundred Hindus went to hell. Why do you not say that we lost two hundred precious human lives?" Minto helped me question the religious dogma andtradition and accept that we are all human beings first and Muslims and Hinduslater. Looking back now I realize that he was the first humanist writer I read although I was not aware of the philosophy of humanism at that time.
After developing a serious interest in literature I thought I should study Quranseriously. Since I did not understand Arabic, like millions of non-Arab Muslims, I brought a number of Urdu and English translations and studied Quran from thefirst to the last verse, from the first to the thirtieth chapter and read all theinterpretations. The more I studied Quran the more I realized that some scholars offered a literal interpretation, while others offered a metaphorical interpretation.When I studied the books of Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, Ghulam AhmedPervaiz, Mohammad Iqbal and Abul Kalam Azad and many others, I realized thatthey had not only different but also contradictory interpretations.
…some scholars translated Quranic term farishtayas angels while others as laws of nature.
…some considered heaven and hell as places while others said they were 'statesnot places'.
…some believed in theory of evolution and translated Quranic expression nafs-un-wahida as a unicellular organism amoeba while others translated it as Adamand thought theory of evolution was absurd.
…some believed in four marriages while others believed it was only allowed inspecial circumstances like war
…some believed that husbands could beat their wives if they disobeyed whileothers thought only the state could punish the citizens.
…some believed in a theocratic state and Political Islam while others believed in
Spiritual Islam and thought that religion was a private matter.
The more translations and interpretations I read the more I realized that in 1400years every Muslim sect had created their own interpretation and there was noway for any human being today to have the correct interpretation of Quran until they had a direct 1-800 line to God.
Gradually I realized that Quran, like the Old and the New Testament andother holy scriptures of the world, was part of folklore and wisdom literature andcould be read to have insights in the psyche of Middle Eastern culture. I realizedit was dangerous to use the scriptures written hundreds of years ago as afoundation to write constitutions and create theocratic states.
The more I studied Quran, the more I felt sadto realize that different sects had used different Quranic verses to support their political and religious agendaand declared holy wars on other religious sects.
I remember the days when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was contesting election inPakistan. He had won with overwhelming majority in the provinces of Punjab andSindh but he lost to Maulana Mufti Mehmood, a religious cleric in Peshawar,because his followers, the taliban, had gone from door to door with a copy ofHoly Quran asking people whether they would vote for Bhutto or the Holy Quran, which meant Maulana Mufti Mehmood. I lived with the taliban far before the world
knew about them. After coming into power in 1970s they had banned alcohol andmusic in the province and restaurants were closed in the month of Ramadan.
I was shocked to see how Sunnis and Shiites, Ahmedis and Wahabiswere treated by other sects. I was utterly disillusioned when my Ahmedi friends inmedical school were the victims of religious prejudice and persecution. Peoplehad thrown garbage on their doorsteps. The state of Pakistan, rather thanprotecting them as respectable citizens, declared them non-Muslims and robbed them of their human rights by declaring them a minority. That was the time Irealized that Pakistan had turned intoan Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Those were the days I became acutely aware how religion can harm people when itmarries politics and creates a theocratic state. That was the first time in my life Irealized that if I stayed in Pakistan I would either land up in prison or a mental asylum.
After reading a number of Eastern writers and philosophers, I found books ofWestern philosophers in the library. I was particularly impressed by BertrandRussell and Sigmund Freud. Russell was of the opinion that all religions weredangerous for human civilization. He was open and honest in expressing hisdissenting views,
"I think all the great religions of the world…Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity,
Islam and Communism---are both untrue and harmful. It is evident as a matter oflogic that, since they disagree, not more than one can be true." Ref 3 p v
"In the so-called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religionin all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with the tortures, there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches, and there was every kind ofcruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion…I say quitedeliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world." Ref 3 p 21
While Russell focused on the social and political aspects of religion Freudfocused on the psychological aspect. He brought to our attention that religiousbeliefs had such a hold in people's cultural psyche that if people criticized orchallenged those beliefs with logical and rational thinking they would bepunished, penalized and persecuted. He expressed his views in these words,
"When we ask on what theirclaim to be believed is founded, we are met withthree answers, which harmonize remarkably badly with one another. Firstly,these teachings deserve to be believed because they are already believed by ourprimal ancestors, secondly, we possess proofs whichhave been handed down to us from those primeval times, and thirdly, it is forbidden to raise the question oftheir authentication at all. In former days anything so presumptuous was visitedwith the severest penalties…' Ref 4 p 26
Freud was optimistic that as science enlarged its territories, religion would haveno choice but to withdraw. He was hopeful that in the long run logical thoughtwould triumph over blind faith. He believed religion was a phenomenon of thepast while the future belonged to science, psychology and philosophy.
After studying the European writers I read South American and Africanwriters and was impressed by their analysis how different political, economic and
religious ideologies have negatively affected their culture. Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote,
'Taken together, therefore, the history of African people provides us with twoprincipal enemies of their authentic traditions and their will to cultural identity.One is European Imperialism, the other Arab-Islamic penetration and domination of significant areas of the continent. Ref 5 p 124
' …Freedom remains an antithesis of power, that historically proven corollary ofenslavement. Obviously power can only be made manifest with the act ofenslavement of some other. What then of the Third World, captive and client ofthe two ideological estates…socialism and capitalism…even as it has been, andstill holds itself in thrall to two other alien contending religions, Christianity andIslam? Both these religions in their turn operate globally in mind-boggling, fluctuating alliances with the two main ideological scaffoldings, left and right, yetconstantly strike out in their own specific authoritarian-isms, often of the most destructive, anti-humanist nature" Ref 5…p 210
The more I reflected on the psychological, social and political effects of religionthe more I felt ready to say goodbye to religion. I realized that the institution ofreligion was used my religious and political leaders to exploit and manipulate innocent and vulnerable people.
Even after saying goodbye to religion, there was a time I believed in God and thespiritual tradition. I believed that each human being could make a personalconnection with God and strive for spiritual enlightenment. In that phase I wasquite impressed by mystic poets who were critical of the hypocrisy of religiousclerics and the social control of religious institutions but still considered God as asource of spiritual inspiration.
Whether it was Bulley Shah, a sufi, Kabir Das, a sant or William Blake, a saint,they were all mystic poets who had created wisdom literature and I was quiteimpressed by them. While studying mystic poetry I became aware that mysticpoets accept the ultimate challenge of describing the indescribable, giving formto the formless. They ask themselves:
How do we talk about a world
Where sounds turn mute?
How do we write about a world
Where words lose all their meanings?
How do we discuss a world
That transcends every logic?
How do we describe a world
That has no boundaries?
How do we conceptualize a world
That defies any form?
How do we understand a world
That is beyond words and sounds
and colors and space and time and logic and….?
And answer it in the words of Rabindranath Tagore,
"I dive down into the depths of the ocean of forms, hoping to gain the perfectpearl of the formless."
J Krishnamurti said, "Truth is a pathless land"
I realized that God of the clerics was like a punitive father, while God of mysticswas like a loving mother who was kind and caring and compassionate andforgiving. In mystic tradition God becomes the beloved and can be seen byfollowing the spiritual path. Kabir Das shares how that path can be followed andthe face of the beloved God can be seen.
I shall make
My body into
A clay-lamp
My soul, its wick
And my blood, oil
Ah, the light
Of this lamp
Will reveal
The face
Of my beloved
To me (Ref 6)
It gradually dawned on me that God was a metaphor and each personand culture had made its unique interpretation. Concept of God over the centuries had become part of our cultural psyche and mythology.
In some cultures we have a male God, in others we have femaleGoddesses.
In some cultures God is fatherly and punitive, in others, God is motherlyand nurturing.
In some cultures God is abstract, in others God appears as man-made statues and idols.
In some cultures God is perceived as a Creator and is believed to exist
outside the universe. In others people say All that Exists is God.
In some cultures people believe God lives within all of us, and we do notneed to believe in Him to know and experience Him.
In some cultures people believe we are all Gods in the making.
After studying different theologies and mythologies, I came to believe that rather than saying Man was created in God's image, it might be wiser to say thatGod was created in Man's image and that the qualities assigned to God or Allahor Bhagwan or Great Mystery are reflections of the human psyche of that era and culture. There are no two human beings or cultures in the whole wide world thathave a similar concept or experience of the reality. For those who project theirfears and insecurities, God becomes a psychologist's Rorschach Test, and forthose who project their fantasies, dreams and ideals, God becomes a SantaClaus.
There is a time human beings as children believe in Santa Claus, but thenthey grow up and learn to buy their own toys while they fulfill their own dreamsand follow their own ideals.
When I studied human history I found out that the concept and belief inGod has also faced many challenges over the centuries. The biggest threat toblind faith in God was the tradition of rational thinking developed by Greek philosophers, and the most fatal war that God had to face was with science and
philosophy. That holy war had different outcomes in different communities,countries and cultures. Octavio Paz, a Mexican Nobel laureate compared God'swar in the Christian and Muslim worlds. He believed that in the Christian worldscience and philosophy won and God lost while in the Muslim world God wonand science and philosophy lost. He wrote, "God, our God, was a victim of philosophical infection, the Logos was the virus, the cause of death…we Christians have used pagan philosophy to kill our God. Philosophy was theweapon, but the hand that wielded it was our hand. We are obliged to go back toNietzsche's idea: within the perspective of the death of God, atheism can only be experienced as a personal act—even though this thought is unbearable andintolerable. Only Christians can really kill God….Islam has experienceddifficulties similar to those Christianity has undergone. Finding it impossible todiscover any rational or philosophical ground for belief in a single God, AbuHamid Ghazali writes his Incoherence of Philosophy; a century later, Averroes answers with his Incoherence of Incoherence. For Moslems, too, the battle between God and philosophy was a fight to the death.In this instance God won, and a Muslim Nietzsche might have written: " Philosophy is dead; we all killed ittogether. You killed it and I killed it." (Ref 7 p114)
Of all the Eastern and Western philosophers that dealt with the belief inGod and its impact on humanity, I would like to quote two that impressed me themost, J. Krishnamurti from the East and from the West, Karen Armstrong.Armstrong in her book History of God discusses the crisis of faith. She highlights
that the belief in a traditional and Personal God faced a serious dilemma in thetwentieth century, especially after the tragedy of the Holocaust. Many traditionalbelievers had to review their philosophy and ideology. She wrote, ' One day the Gestapo hanged a child. Even the SS were disturbed by the prospect of hanging a young boy in front of thousands of spectators. The child who, Elie Weiselrecalled, had the face of a 'sad-eyed angel' was silent, lividly pale and almostcalm as he ascended the gallows. Behind Weisel, one of the other prisoners was forced to look him in the face. The same man asked again, "Where is God now?'And Weisel heard a voice within him make this answer: Where is He? Here Heis…He is hanging here on the gallows…
'…Many Jews can no longer subscribe to the biblical idea of God who manifests himself in history, who, they say with Weisel, died in Auschwitz. Theidea of a personal God, like one of us writ large, is fraught with difficulty. If thisGod is omnipotent, he could have prevented the Holocaust. If he was unable to stop it, he is impotent and useless, if he could have stopped it and chose not to,he is a monster. Jews are not the only people who believe that the Holocaust putan end to conventional theology." (Ref 8)
On the other hand Krishnamurti highlights that belief does not stop people from committing all kinds of violence. When he was asked, "Belief in God has been apowerful incentive to better living. Why do you deny God? Why do you not try torevive man's faith in the idea of God?" he responded, "Let us look at the problem
widely and intelligently…I know you believe and I know it has very little meaningin your life. There are many people who believe, millions believe in God and takeconsolation. First of all, why do you believe? You believe because it gives you satisfaction, consolation, hope, and you say it gives you significance in life.Actually your belief has very little significance, because you believe and exploit,you believe and kill, you believe in a universal God and murder each other. Therich man also believes in God; he exploits ruthlessly, accumulates money, andthen builds a temple and becomes a philanthropist.
The men who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima said God was withthem, those who flew from England to destroy Germanysaid that God was their co-pilot. The dictators, the prime ministers, the generals, the presidents, all talk toGod, they have immense faith in God. Are they doing service, making a better lifefor man? The people who say they believe in God have destroyed half of the world and the world is in complete misery." (Ref 9 )
Even in the contemporary world crisis both leaders, Osama bin Laden inthe East and George Bush in the West, the biggest threats to world peace, bothnot only believe in God but also insist that God is on their side.
The more I contemplated about my relationship with God, the more I wasgetting ready to say goodbye to Him. So when my atheist poet uncle Arif Abdul
Mateen came for a visit to our home I told him that I wanted to have a heart toheart talk with him. He took me out to a hotel and while sipping green tea andeating snacks I shared with him that I was losing faith in religion and God. Helistened to my story patiently and then said, "My dear nephew, in everycommunity and culture there are two groups of people. The first group follows thehighway of tradition. They are in majority. The second group follows the trail oftheir hearts. They are in minority. They are the poets and philosophers and reformers. They lead the caravan of humanity. Many of them are humanists andatheists. In your family on your father's side there are many non-conformists and non-traditional people. My uncle, your grandfather, had become an atheist when he was in his 60s, I lost faith in God when I was in my 40s and you are becominga free thinker in your 20s. That is wonderful. Feel free to leave the highway oftradition and follow the trail of your heart."
Alongside the mythological and philosophical aspects, there was apsychological dimension to my relationship with God. I used to believe he wasomnipresent. Whether it was at work or at home, whether in the bedroom or inthe washroom He was always watching me as if He had a camera. That mademe uncomfortable as I did not like being watched. I felt he was intruding in myprivacy. It made me feel like a child and He was the parent. Finally I felt that forme to be an adult I have to say goodbye to God that looked after me as a parent in my childhood and adolescence.
I vividly remember the night when I had a long discussion with God. It wasnot a dialogue; it was rather a monologue. I talked and He listened like apsychoanalyst. I was lying on my bed like patient of a psychoanalyst who practices free association while lying on a couch .I realized that all my life I talkedto God and He never answered. After a long monologue and saying goodbye toGod, I fell asleep and He left like an old Native Indian grandfather who leaves in the middle of the night when it is time to go and his family never sees him again.After that night I never again had a monologue with God or prayed to Him. Heparted gracefully and respectfully. From a psychological point of view, now that I look back to that stage of my life as a psychotherapist and focus on my journeyof personal growth and emotional maturity, I think that as the sun of my self-confidence started to shine in my heart, blind faith in God started to disappearlike the morning fog. That was the time I started seeing with my own eyes,listening with my own ears, feeling with my own heart, thinking with my own mindand trusting my own encounters with life. It was a wonderful experience.
After saying goodbye to religion and God I lived in a spiritual no-man's land for years. I knew what I did not believe in, but I did not know what I believed in.
I had a painful realization that after becoming an atheist life was not aseasy as I had expected. Although I was successful in overcoming intellectualconditioning and had crossed many borders and unlearnt many traditions but Iwas still controlled by emotional conditioning. I realized that religious traditions
had induced feelings of fear and guilt in my heart. Such a religious guilt wasassociated with the concept of sin. Gradually I overcame my feelings of fear andguilt about many aspects of life and started associating sex with love andaffection rather than sin and guilt. I was amazed and amused how deep cultural roots were in my personality and how difficult it was to overcome religiousattitudes and enjoy my life without feeling guilty.
After graduating from Khyber Medical College in Pakistan I went to Iran for a couple of years and then came to Newfoundland in 1977. I studied at MemorialUniversity in Newfoundland and after receiving my Fellowship in Psychiatry,worked in Newbrunswick and then moved to Ontario in 1984. I worked in WhitbyPsychiatric Hospital for a decade and then started my Creative PsychotherapyClinic. In 1995. Gradually I built a bridge between my personal philosophy andmy professional practice of psychotherapy.
As time passed I became more confident in my philosophy and personality and I realized that I was ready to embrace the secular tradition of humanism but for methat tradition was more than a set of ideas, it had many dimensions. Over theyears I have discovered 7 colors of my humanistic rainbow
Over the years I realized that to become a humanist I had to leave blind faithbehind and study science and philosophy so that I could develop logical andrational thinking and use critical thinking to question all the myths and supernatural teachings of my family, community and culture. In this journeywritings of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, JeanPaul Sartre and many other philosophers paved my way to my acceptance ofatheism and humanism. I am glad that humanist philosophy helped me in makingrational and responsible choices for myself and communicating with others whohave a scientific attitude towards life.
When I realized that people's behaviors maynot be a true reflection of their belief system and their personality may not be in harmony with their philosophy, Istarted paying more attention to people's behaviors and personalities. Now Ihave come to the awareness that humanist personality reflected in a caring, kind and compassionate attitude might be seen in different people with differentideologies and philosophies. As compared to humanist personality some peoplehave a fundamentalist personality that is very critical, judgmental and aggressive.People with such personality try to convert others and get into angry and bitterdebates with their opponents. It is quite amazing for me to see how somereligious people have a humanist personality while there are some atheists whohave a fundamentalist personality. Over the years I have tried to develop ahumanist personality alongside acquiring a humanist philosophy.
After developing a humanist philosophy and striving to have a humanistpersonality, I realized that both of them had to be actualized in a humanistlifestyle. When I put my philosophy and personality in practice I realized thatother humanists welcomed it but it created a tension with the traditional friendsand religious families I knew. I had to learn tobe tolerant and accepting of their truth. It was a struggle to accept the reality that my truth is a truth and not the truth. It was a test for me to accept that other human beings have the right totheir ideology and philosophy as long as they do not impose it on me or stop me from practicing my truth. In this transition I lost some of my relatives and friendswho could not accept my humanism and associated atheism with an immoral andunethical life. Now I have a circle of friends from different cultures and backgrounds who are respectful of each other's philosophy and are willing tohave a meaningful dialogue. Now I realize that there are as many truths ashuman beings and as many realities as pairs of eyes in this world.
As I accepted my own truth and felt confident to acknowledge it publicly in mysocial life I also introduced humanist philosophy to my clinical practice. Readingthe writings of Eric Fromm, Carl Rogers, Victor Frankl and Abraham Maslowhelped me at a conceptual and philosophical level to accept my patient'sexperiences and truths and then help them decrease their suffering and improvetheir quality of life. Such a journey helped me create my unique clinical practice
of my Creative Psychotherapy Clinic and with the help of my colleagues AnneHenderson and Bette Davis write a series of books about my Green ZonePhilosophy. Such a philosophy and practice has helped me in helping mypatients to develop a kind, caring and compassionate personality. I helped them in trusting their conscience more than the religious traditions of their families andcommunities that contributed in their concept of sin and feelings of guilt.. Therapyalso helped them either resolve their social conflicts with their religious relatives or dissolve their relationships with relatives and friends who have afundamentalist personality. As therapy evolved they were able to create ahealthy, happy and peaceful lifestyle. I feel very excited that now we havecreated a website
and videos and books so that more and more people can benefit from a GreenZone Philosophy and develop a humanist personality and lifestyle.
After I realized that my religious upbringing had negatively affected mypersonality and had introduced me to the concept of sin producing feelings ofguilt about sex and many other things and it took me years even decades tounlearn those values, I tried to share with others that it might be wise to teachreligious traditions of the world at homes and in schools as a part of history ratherthan a part of their faith. Parents and teachers have the responsibility to pass oncollective knowledge and wisdom to the next generation so that children can
make rational and responsible choices for their own lives as adults. I had toshare with parents and teachers that humanist values can be taught even withoutwrapping them in religious and faith based practices. It is encouraging to see that more and more parents and teachers are realizing that education based onsecular values married to science, philosophy and psychology encourageschildren in developing a rational, critical and creative mind.
Since I am a poet and a writer alongside a psychotherapist, I became involved inthe social and political dialogues of different groups in Pakistan and Canada. Ithas been my experience that as more and more people become aware of theeffects of religion on people and how different religious and political leadersexploit and abuse the concepts of God and Religion to create holy wars betweendifferent sects and different religions, it is important for free thinkers to try theirbest to raise social consciousness. Being a writer I have written many essaysand books on these subjects and translated writings of atheist and humanistphilosophers in Urdu so that we can promote humanism through education inUrdu speaking men and women. I receivemany emails from Asia and Middle East from men and women who read my essays on website
and share their struggles. I feel that free thinkers need a moral support as theyare in minority and need a group where they can share their struggles and getinto meaningful dialogue while they are in search of their truth. Creating a secularcommunity is essential part of humanism so that there is not only freedom of
religion but also freedom from religion. There are many communities all over the world that have very punitive traditions and persecutory laws against non-believers. In some communities atheists are afraid to be killed by religiouszealots. Such an oppressive environment forces people to become hypocrites and not share their truth openly and honestly and lead a double life.
It is my dream that we reach such a stage in human evolution where we can seea humanist culture all over the world. I am of the opinion that the unresolved conflicts of class, gender, race, sexual orientation, language, nationality andreligion continue to be the cause of human suffering and we need to worktogether to create a just and a humanist culture. Such culture will help all ofus to become fully human individually and collectively.
I am well aware that these are the colors of my humanist dream but I alsoknow that we all have to dream before the dream comes true. We need a criticalmass of humanists who are dedicated and committed and willing to work together to create humanist traditions in their families, schools and communities.It is encouraging to read that in 1900 only 1% people publicly acknowledged thatthey did not believe in God and organized religions and in 2000 the number had increased to 20% internationally. As the numbers grow I become more hopefulthat my humanist dream will come true.
One of the fundamental question that I reflect upon as a humanist
psychotherapist is to identify those human needs that are fulfilled by the conceptsof God and Religion. When we study human history we realize that people allover the world have used their belief in God and Religion to cope with theirproblems. The more people feel emotionallyinsecure and the more they are facing social and economic crises, the more they rely on the concepts of Godand Religion. Mao tse Tung used to say that China is like an old man who has abig burden of problems on his head and a cane of religion in his hand to support himself. If we ask him to let the cane of religion go, he is afraid he will fall. But ifwe help him in removing the burden of his problems from his head, he may notneed the cane.. As a humanist I feel that it is the duty of secular scientists, psychologists, sociologists and economists to find solutions to the humanproblems. The more human beings will be able to feel confident that they cansolve their problems in a logical, rational, creative and compassionate way theless they would rely on the magical thinking of religion. The more human beingscan solve their problems on their own individually and collectively, the less theywould rely on miracles and wait for divine interventions. It takes a lot of time tounlearn the social and cultural conditioning of thousands of years.
In the last couple of decades when I traveled in Europe, Asia, NorthAmerica, Latin America and South Africa I realized that most of the people stillhave a tribal mentality and divide people as
US / THEM based on class, race, gender, nationalism and religion. Whether they
are Hindus and Muslims in India, Shiites, Sunnis and Ahmedis in Pakistan,Catholics and Protestants in Ireland or Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel,people are still fighting holy wars..
In the 21st century humanity is at a crossroads and is vulnerable to becrushed between Western imperialism and religious fundamentalism. In 20thcentury we saw the rising tides of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindufundamentalism in different parts of the world that have become threats to worldpeace, progress and prosperity. There are still so many men and women who arewilling to give and take lives in the name of Religion and God.
It is amazing to see how Western powers especially America, that considers herself the symbol of freedom and democracy has played her role inthe last fifty years to support dictators, kings and army generals. Whether it wasShah of Iran, Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Saudi King or Pervaz Musharraf of Pakistan they were all supported by America to get control on the economicresources and holy oil. To create free societies all those individuals andorganizations who believe in democratic, secular and humanistic values need towork together.
One of the fundamental questions humanists all over the world face todayis: Can followers of religious, spiritual and secular traditions work together? In myhumble opinion I think they can. In my professional life as a psychiatrist I have
worked with many religious and spiritual colleagues who worked with me toachieve a common goal to serve our psychiatric patients and educate theirfamilies so that they can decrease their human suffering and increase their quality of life.
Similarly in my personal and social life I have worked with many religiousand spiritual people to organize seminars on decreasing domestic violence andincreasing human rights. We tried to create a respectful and peaceful environment where we can rise above our ideological differences and focus oncommon goals. The biggest compliment I received was from a Catholic womanwho said, "I am so happy to meet you. You are a loving humanist and not an angry atheist"
I am quite aware that some atheists, agnostics and free thinkers keep arespectful distance from religious and spiritual people. I would encourage them toreview their position. It is my observation and experience that many followers of religious and spiritual traditions are liberal people and are willing to work withatheists and humanists on common goals. I believe people:
…who respect human rights of women, children and minorities
…who are against religious fundamentalism and extremism
…who are against war and in favor of peaceful resolution of social and politicalconflicts
…who want to keep church and state, mosque and parliament separate
…who are in favor of free education and universal health care
can work together to create secular humanistic communities.
One of the examples of followers of religious and secular traditions workingtogether was in South Africa where Nelson Mandela, follower of a seculartradition, while staying inside the prison and ReverendDesmund Tutu, follower of a religious tradition, staying outside the prison worked together for the humanrights of Blacks and finally brought a revolution that culminated in the freemultiparty elections for all races, faiths and classes. Both of them received Nobel Peace prizes for their valuable contributions to humanity. In South Africa, religionbecame a private matter while the state was run according to the secular andhumanistic values. In my opinion a cooperative relationship of Mandela and Tutucan become a source of inspiration for the leaders of other communitiesespecially Middle East.
In the end I want to thank Humanist Association of Canada one more timeto arrange such a seminar so that we can have a genuine dialogue about ourvalues, dilemmas and dreams. Such seminars provide us with an opportunity tolearn from each other and grow together and I believe growing together is betterthan growing alone..
1. The Humanist Magazine Canada Spring 2002
2. Sohail K. Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Religion
Green Zone Publishers Canada 2007
3. Russell Bertrand Why I am not a Christian?A Touch Stone Book New York 1957
4. Freud Sigmund The Future of an Illusion WW Norton and Company New York 1961
5. Soyinka Wole Art, Dialogue and Outrage Pantheon Books New York 1993
6. Kumar Sehdev The Vision of Kabir Alpha and Omega Books Ontario Canada 1984
7. Paz Octavio Alternating Current Arcade Publishing New York 1967
8. Armstrong Karen A History of God Ballantyne Books New York 1993
9. Krishnamurti J The First and Last Freedom Harper and Rowe Publishers New York 1975
10. Sohail K. From Islam to Secular Humanism Abbeyfield Publishers Toronto Canada 2001

Bipin Shroff

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Catch Them as Young For Fodders Cannons


Hate as a history lesson
26 Oct 2008, 0141 hrs IST, Shobhan Saxena, TNN

When bands of lumpen goons, armed with knives, guns, kerosene cans and shouts of "Jai Sri Ram" rule the streets, hunting those who belong to other faiths, they strut like warriors re-living a historical role. Serial bombers, who maim and kill anyone and everyone within the range of the pellets packed in their crude bombs, celebrate death and destruction in the belief that Islamic history is on their side.

The anatomy of religious hate, which is becoming stronger by the day across the country, has a core - our past. It is this that gives the hooligan a sense of purpose and a place in, what he believes to be, the larger scheme of things. But where does the religious-minded goon learn the "history" that fills his mind with enough hate to commit irreligious acts of violence? Perhaps, the answer lies in our educational system, or lack of it. The history textbooks, used by thousands of schools across the country, mix myth and legend with facts in a way that makes it difficult for students to distinguish between them. Often enough, schoolteachers present myth as history and debunk history as myth.

The Sunday Times spoke to students at a Saraswati Shishu Mandir in west Delhi, run by the RSS, and found that they perceived Indian history to be nothing but a conflict between Hindus and Muslims. A casual conversation with students at a Saraswati Bal Mandir in south Delhi unveiled an image of India as the oldest civilization in the world and the source of all knowledge and culture. Meanwhile, the young children studying at a madrassa in Delhi's Okhla area don't recognize names such as Ashoka, Buddha and Chandragupta. These historical figures are alien to them. It's almost the same story in many of the more than 1,000 madrassas operating in the national capital.

But, the madrassas are changing. It is getting harder to get into college and secure a job, so madrassas are increasingly opting for courses in English, computer science and the natural sciences. But these Muslim religious schools still remain allergic to the social sciences, particularly history. Years in a madrassa classroom may leave a student with barely any knowledge of some of the most important events in Indian and world history. A former student of Varanasi's Jamia Salafia, a leading madrassa run by the socio-cultural organization, Ahl-i Hadith, says, "We are so cut off from the external world that students have no idea of the important trends and events in other parts of the world. When you step out of the madrassa and go into the real world, you are lost." The young man, now enrolled in a history course in a Delhi college, adds, "I don't have much of a problem with what they teach, but I have a problem with what they don't teach, particularly history and political science."

But the teaching of history is not enough to create a balanced picture of our multi-religious and multi-cultural country and our changing world.

At Saraswati Bal Mandir in Nehru Nagar in Delhi, children are taught history from NCERT books. The school is affiliated to the CBSE, but its small campus is also filled with religious symbols and imagery - Bharat Mata in the principal's office and Rama, the warrior, by the blackboard.

Most class XII students believe Rama was a historical figure. "The scientific investigation of the old bridge between India and Sri Lanka has proved that it was built by Rama," says a student, who is unaware of details of the Sethusamudram project case currently in the Supreme Court. Many of the school's students present the Ayodhya temple as proof that Rama existed. Their history teacher offers the final bit of evidence: "The Ramacharitmanas proves that Rama was a historical figure. What further proof do you want?" When asked to state when exactly Rama walked the earth, the teacher retorts: "It's a matter of people's faith and belief."

Therein lies the problem. Schools run by religious bodies - be they Hindu or Muslim - teach "matters of faith and belief" as historical fact. It could end very badly, says Aditya Mukherjee, professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University. "We will end up producing morons," says the professor, who has written a book on the issue along with colleagues Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan. Their book, The RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi, analyzes history textbooks used by schools in the cow belt. Mukherjee says, "They are putting poison into young minds by distorting the truth." The book lists some of the more bizarre 'facts' taught as history, including bitter condemnation of Ashoka's philosophy of ahimsa or non-violence, which is alleged to "make cowards of Indians". The textbooks also eulogise Hitler for his nationalism, cast Muslims as invaders and nothing else and claim that Iran and China's first settlers were Indian kshatriyas.

These 'facts', which do not withstand independent scrutiny, are taught in an estimated 30,000 schools run by the Vidya Bharti, an apex all-India organization of the RSS. More than 80,000 teachers convey these 'truths' to three million children every year. It is hardly better in thousands of madrassas across the country, where the syllabus remains virtually unchanged from the original prepared during the Mughal period and modified in the late 19th century. "Students of these institutions are developing a world view that's narrow and sectarian. We have so much religion in the country that they don't see anything odd with it," says an official of the ministry of human resources development. He adds that "political reasons" meant "we have failed to detoxify the curriculum of these schools. It's really dangerous. We will pay a heavy price for ignoring primary education."

Historians such as Aditya Mukherjee rue the fact that "nobody is bothered about the state of primary education in the country". With government schools either non-existent or not functioning, poor people in rural areas and urban pockets depend on these schools to educate their children. Religious groups, pushing narrow agendas, have grabbed the space left vacant by the state.

Historical fact explains why. In Nehru's time, India was focused on creating and sustaining centres of higher education, such as the IITs, IIMs and central universities. For all that Nehru believed that words such as dharma and mazheb were "dangerous" and should be kept out of the "temples of learning", primary education was ignored during his tenure. Now, it has become worse. Today, with the Right to Education Bill (2005), which guarantees free and compulsory education to every child in the 6-14 age group, stuck as the UPA government has failed to introduce a new draft in Parliament, primary education seems destined still to suffer at the hands of hate politics.

Hate and history are related. Each time history repeats itself, the level of hate goes up.

Bipin Shroff

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What a well Balanced &Thought provoking Article on Kandhamal-(Orissa)-Terrorism-National Integration.


Date:15/10/2008 URL:


Opinion - Leader Page Articles

Kandhamal, terrorism and national integration

Valson Thampu

When the state that fights terrorism of one kind remains an onlooker in the face of terrorism of another variety, the faith of citizens in the state is at stake.

"You cannot begin to help the world," said Confucius, "unless you begin to call things by their right names."

What has been staged over the last several weeks in Kandhamal and areas adjoining it is, quite simply, terrorism by broad daylight. The fact that a veneer of religious zeal, peppered by calculations of mega electoral profit, is cast over it does not make it any less so. The seed of this national shame lies in the inability or unwillingness of the law-enforcing agencies in Orissa to book the killers of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his followers. This would have, perhaps, arrested the ongoing carnage. It is regrettable that the swamiji was killed and justice must be done with respect to the killing. But, surely, raping nuns, killing priests, burning down churches and houses and driving thousands of innocent citizens into the forest are no way to bring justice to the late swamiji.

Terrorism must be identified not by who resorts to it, but by the nature and purpose of what is done. Our repugnance to atrocities should not depend on the religious identity of the perpetrators or their victims. It cannot be that avenging individuals or groups of a certain religious identity who resort to burning, killing, rape, destruction and spreading panic are not terrorists; whereas their counterparts in some other faith resorting to blasts and assaults are. All those who mock the rule of law belong together and have to be treated alike. To countenance terrorism of one kind is to lend legitimacy to terrorism of every other kind.

Much worse, it fuels further terrorism by eroding faith in the state and endorsing the dogma that violence alone pays. By abandoning the tribal Christians of Kandhamal to marauders, the state could — and that is a perverse prospect — drive them to the Maoist and naxalite camps. It is a sad day when the state that fights terrorism of one kind remains, for weeks together, an onlooker in the face of terrorism of another variety right under its nose. The faith of citizens in the impartiality and dependability of the state is at stake here. Let us remember what Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Those who want to attack the minorities will have to do so over my dead body." Look where we have reached. For the minorities in particular, the ultimate terror is being abandoned by the state to blood-thirsty mobs.

Communal atrocities such as those in Orissa, Gujarat and elsewhere have to be viewed, first and foremost, from the perspective of national integration and our collective need to create a peaceful and terror-free society. Gandhiji's commitment to the freedom and integrity of India made him give priority to national unity. He knew that truth alone could be the foundation for that unity. So he proclaimed, "Truth is God." Terror is the alternative to truth.

It is laughable that, on the one hand, we carry on with the campaign against terror and, on the other, we continue with our callous indifference to truth. Multitudinous falsehoods are mass-produced, widely distributed and nationally consumed. We can no longer delay asking, what is the sort of society we want to live in? What is the 'security environment' we seek to achieve? It cannot be that we patronise falsehoods of every kind and still expect to live in a sane and safe society. Terrorism, whether it is local, national or international, cannot be contained without a willingness to seek, know and accept the truth of the given issue in context. War on Terror becomes War of Terror when, in pursuing it, truth is nudged aside by falsehood. Remember the run-up to the Iraq imbroglio?

The wilful indifference to truth that underlies the Kandhamal riots pertains not only to the identity of the killers of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Equally, it involves the reluctance to face the truth about conversions in this region. Are conversions by force, fraud or allurement taking place there? If yes, to what extent? Who are the perpetrators of this perfidy? Why are they not dealt with under the law in this regard? What are the factors that fuel large-scale conversions in tribal belts? Nobody cares to find out. Rumours fly fast and furious. Tensions mount. Nothing is done to bring the facts to light. Intriguingly, no one listens to the so-called victims of "conversion by force, fraud or allurement." They are not listened to, I suspect, because they could tell the truth. Some unpleasant truths at that. As an alternative, thousands of people are terrorised, driven out of their homes into forests, denied their citizenship rights, including the right to life. The situation is akin to a nightmare, rather than to life in a sane, civilised society.

Incidentally, there is something funny about the paranoia that Hinduism is endangered by this religion. For long, Islamists were the ultimate threat. Then, for some strange reason, Christians were discovered to be enemy numero uno. Wonder what these worry-pots of Hinduism think of this amazingly resilient faith. Is there no way to convince them that Hinduism is not a religious hencoop which has to be protected against poachers? That it is as enduring as the Himalayas, as secure as the sky, but also, like any other religion, as vulnerable to pollution as the Ganga, if spiritual vigilance is not exercised over what is dumped into it. No religion has been hurt, much less destroyed, by external enemies. Hinduism is in no danger from any other faith. To insinuate otherwise is to 'propagate' a ridiculous view of a faith that has proved its mettle against all odds and challenges.

The Kandhamal carnage that followed the swamiji's murder is a national tragedy. The rest of the nation cannot afford to stand and watch indifferently, because this involves an issue crucial to our belonging together as a nation. The communal turmoil in several BJP-ruled States is not unrelated to the approaching general elections. What this means is that communal terrorism is deemed an alluring strategy of assured electoral returns.

The flip side of it is that a party does not have to deliver good governance so long as it can play the communal card and catch votes in the net of communal polarisation. The assumption at work here is the same that drives terrorism: violence pays. Surely, this is an alarming sign of the sickness of our democratic culture and social cohesion.

The question posed by the communal clouds over Kandhamal is whether or not Article 25 should stand. Regrettably, the Supreme Court of India, in Stanislav vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh (1976) pronounced that "the right to propagate is not the right to convert." In a sense, it is like saying that while one is free to eat, one is not free to digest what one eats. What is proscribed is 'conversion by force, fraud or allurement' which is indeed laudable. But there is a huge problem. Who decides whether a given instance of conversion is by free choice or by force or fraud? On the ground it is lynch mobs, as in Kandhamal, that will decide. What the Supreme Court overlooked was the likely impact of its stand on the right of every citizen to choose and practise a religion of his or her choice.

There is a necessary connection between the right to choose a religion and the right to propagate one's religion. Freedom of choice vis-À-vis religion becomes absurd when the right to practise religion is made birth-based. The word 'propagate' was retained in Article 25 after a prolonged debate in the Constituent Assembly, because it was recognised to be basic to the freedom of religion. Judicial pronouncements as well as legislative whittling down of the ambit of Article 25, that sever the link between the right to propagate one's religion and the right to choose any religion through conversion tend, albeit unwittingly, to legitimise communal pogroms of the Kandhamal variety. If we are committed at all to national integration and religious freedom, we need to review and, if need be, rescind judgments and legislation that undermine the legitimacy of the rights enshrined in Article 25.

The state has a duty to protect the life, liberty, material assets and dignity of its citizens. The loss, destruction and trauma that they suffer due to dereliction of duty on the part of the state must be compensated. The state must realise the costs from the perpetrators of destruction. Those who have lost everything have to be enabled to pick up the threads of their traumatised life and move on. Those who kill people and destroy property must pay for their cruel sport. Why should the taxpayer's money be wasted to finance the vandalism of any group? Presumption of assured immunity to consequences makes cowards trigger-happy.

All citizens have a duty to respect and protect the sanity and unity of our society. No one shall gain from degrading a society into a theatre of anarchy where every man's hand is on his neighbour's throat. Religious and political activities undertaken in the public domain need to pay heed to promoting harmony and mutual trust. At the same time, preserving the health of a society should not be understood as the mere avoidance of offensive acts or words. Justice and equity are basic to the sanity and stability of a society.

Justice, in its proactive sense, involves the creation of conditions conducive to the development and empowerment of every citizen. If crass poverty and deprivation of education and healthcare are what drive conversions in the tribal belts, the just remedy is not communal terrorism and re-conversion by force. It is an initiative to eradicate poverty and to reach out to the likely 'victims' of conversion who live smarting under social, economic and caste degradation.

For the millions who exist suspended between life and death on tenuous strings of destitution, hunger, humiliation and helplessness are the tangible faces of day-to-day terror. Conversion should not be the only survival strategy or escape route for them.

Related stories:

·  Kandhamal limps back to normality

·  3 held in Lakshmanananda case

·  Maoists claim responsibility for killing of VHP leader

·  'Majority of Maoist supporters in Orissa are Christians'

·  Kandhamal violence spreads to Boudh district

(Valson Thampu is a member of the National Integration Council.)

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Bipin Shroff