Archive for the 'politics' Category

27
May
09

Polemics and religion

 

dsouza Dr.Naik

 

I am sure there are innumerable zealots but I would like to focus on a Muslim gentleman called Dr.Zakir Naik and a Christian writer named Dinesh D’Souza; while both these men are more or less equally despicable for their religious dogma, the former has a more modest aim of altering current perceptions about Islam  (often at the cost of grossly misrepresenting the truth) and the latter, the grander ambition of totally repudiating atheism or in other words, making a strong case for God.

Dr.Naik, hails from Bombay and has lived there all his life; Mr.D’Souza on the other hand migrated to the United States from Bombay when he was 16. Sporting the traditional beard and cap of Islam, Dr.Naik is a lean man who is old enough to be taken seriously though far too young to be considered senile. Mr.Dsouza is a not unimpressive looking man who, though older, appears younger than Dr.Naik by a few years owing to the absence of a beard. Both men are impeccably dressed, dusky in complexion and are passionate about their respective religions. Dr.Naik unabashedly wears religion on his sleeve while Mr.D’Souza has the  semblance of an academician. As speakers, both men are endowed with tremendous oratorical skills but their approaches to seducing their audiences are essentially different in that Dr.Naik’s speeches are rife with simplistic analogies and inaccuracies of politics and religion while Mr.D’Souza’s debates are sophisticated polemics that make a significant departure from the tiring mumbo jumbo that fanatics usually spill out.

These zealots use different mediums to propagate their views : Dr.Naik is the founder, president and the chief voice of a network called “Peace TV” that is aired throughout the world; Mr.D’Souza is a New York Times best selling author of books like “What is so great about America” and “What is so great  about Christianity” that support his conservative stance. 

Mr.D’Souza’s  systematic approach to laying out the virtues of Christianity, his interpretations of Western Philosophy on religion and his refusal to resort to scriptures to score points might have earned him the admiration of his critics, who mostly hail from intellectual circles and/or are members of the left. Frequently alluding to Nietzsche, Kant, Hume and others, Mr.D’Souza hopes to defeat atheism on its own grounds by exposing its inherent metaphysical assumptions. Though originally from India, his accent is indicative of how long he has been in his adopted homeland, fully embracing its conservative mores. His enemies are the enemies of the political right. He offers a controversial interpretation for the poverty of African Americans and blames 9/11 on leftists. Strong as his arguments may be, under all the sophistry of language, masterful intonation and knowledge is the heart of a person who puts faith before science, religion before humanity. Shrewd enough to be politically correct most of the time, he doesn’t openly support creationism being taught in schools but he is a creationist nevertheless and is opposed to Darwinism.

Dr.Naik, whose quackery apparently extends beyond medicine, offers his nostrums to listeners who are willingly deluded. His target is not the learned scholar or the occasional intellectual but the average citizen who neither knows the art of rhetoric nor the mechanics of argument; to such a person, an out-of-context quote or half-baked research seems impressive enough to qualify as truth. To bolster the drivel he dishes out so eloquently, Dr.Naik operates under a veneer of feigned modesty and false erudition. As a result, the audience experiences a mass epiphany akin to something spiritual and they revere him for the startling answers he offers to age old questions and quarrels such as vegetarianism vs. meat and monogamy vs. polygamy. Although some of his answers may not be entirely ridiculous, they are trivial when compared to the flippant evidence he lays out to “prove” historical riddles and put to rest conspiracy theories; most deceptive of all, when someone from the audience questions him, he reaches into his tool box for the nuts and bolts he needs to tighten his loose arguments, conjuring them up when they don’t exist.

All said and done, having people like these makes life interesting. Dogma aside, these men provide an impetus for atheism to re-assert itself. To give the devils their due, Dr.Naik’s lectures have, on occasion, attacked loose statements like “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims”. While he tries to cast Islam in a new light, which is commendable, Dr.Naik takes a dig at other religions, faiths and practices bringing out the fanatic in him.  Mr.D’Souza’s speeches on the other hand reveal a superior orator willing to battle it out till the end, using every subterfuge of language and logic known to him. He may not understand string theory but he is confident enough to make you believe he does. Great talkers as they are, it must be remembered that these are also men who would consign the non-believer to hell without thinking for a second.

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01
Nov
08

Trick Or Treat

Today is Halloween. With four days left for the United States Presidential election, anyone can surmise that unless something goes drastically wrong, the conservative right will lose the race. It is evident from the speeches on television that the Republican Party is beginning to feel increasingly desperate. After all, McCain has been outspent and out-endorsed. Colin Powell, Billy Joel, McClellan and Bill Clinton have all fervently expressed their support for Senator Barack Obama.  Does McCain really think that Joe-the-plumber’s voice will be heard against that of these political and cultural heavy weights? Can the American people really lack any sense of discretion? The answer to both these questions, fortunately or unfortunately, is yes.

By using an ordinary middle-class god-fearing white American blue collar worker as a symbol of America’s work force, McCain’s strategy is to win over a majority of the votes from people who are more or less in the same occupational status as Joe. From people who more or less share his love of god and an unabashed sense of pride that supports the reasoning that a citizen of the most powerful country in the world can and should afford to be not-apologetic. To paraphrase Joe, “Why must we be so apologetic dammit! We live in the world’s no.1 country”. Yes, the sad truth is that the no.1 country in the world or at least the people who run it (Guess who? Not Joe-the Plumber, Joe-the CEO) can wreck all the havoc they want wherever they want in the name of patriotism. Or worse still, under the guise of freedom. After eight years of throwing tax-payers money down the proverbial drain, you might think the nation has finally opened its eyes to the truth. You might think that the dawn of realization has finally arrived to awaken the slumbering masses lost in the miasma of deception-it is now more probable for SETI to locate alien signals in space than for the US army to locate any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And yet, there is a significant section of the population that firmly believes that the war can still be won. Yesterday, Sarah Palin urged her listeners to vote for a candidate who will not shy away from a war that is on the verge of being won. Really, who is she kidding ? The answer is obvious – that significant percentage of the population that is kidding itself.

The United States is at present in an economic crisis; apparently the worst since the great depression. While greedy bankers are largely responsible for the steep decline in interest rates by doling out an excess of sub-prime mortgages, the war on Iraq has no doubt played a major and devastating role in emptying the country’s coffers. And yes Joe, that is one amongst several hundred other reasons why an American must be apologetic. If someone doesn’t understand the language of humanity- a hundred thousand civilians dead, half-a-million children crippled, no food supplies for three hundred miles, no water supply for six months (I am sure Joe understands this part about the water supply at least, he is a plumber after all), speak in the language of money- $2 billion a week. Even Bill Gates cannot afford to finance this war for more than 6 months. A year into the war and he will be on welfare – and you don’t need to take my word for it, ask him yourself. In a recent interview with Larry King, Michael Moore was asked how Obama can manage to stabilize the economy in just 6 months and in a reply that shouldn’t have been surprising at all but nevertheless was as I have rarely heard anyone put it so bluntly; Michael said, “How about stopping the war on Iraq? That is $40 Billion an year”. If only all voters thought as rationally as Mr. Moore. But many of them are in fact so stupid that John McCain and Sarah Palin are counting on it. They are depending on every cross-carrying, cheeseburger-chewing yank to fall for their lack-luster, dressed-up policies. People slip into costumes on Halloween. Policies slip into costumes every day.

The most important question looming over this nation right now is whether the people of America will be tricked or treated on the 4th of November. Assume a scenario, however hellish it might be, where John McCain and Sarah Palin make it to the White House. There are two obvious consequences. 1. The War on Iraq continues.   2. Greed flourishes unchecked. Less obvious is the fact that this nation will lose, from what we know so far,  an eminent leader unlike any seen in the history of America. And I am not talking about race here although Obama’s win will at least set a precedent for an African American (albeit only 50%)  to occupy the highest office of the, no doubt, most powerful nation in the world. Now is it possible to ignore this nagging and utterly unpleasant question about race? The answer is a definite No. It has hardly been 50 years since segregation was the de facto standard in many institutions. And a little more than 50 since Rosa Parks refused to shift seats from the white section of a Montgomery Bus in Alabama to the black section. True, 50 years is a long time in politics and culture. True, America has left the era of segregation long behind. That said, Obama’s presidency will be a brutal and sanctifying slap on the cheek of White supremacist groups (By the way, the KKK site proudly asserts that “We do not endorse Obama”).  Only last week or was it this week, two white supremacists had been arrested for plotting a shoot-out in an African-American school. Eventually, their plan would lead to the assassination of Senator Obama. Now is race an important factor to consider in this presidential race?  Consider that a rhetorical question.

Focusing again on Michael Moore’s interview with Larry King, Moore asked a great question. “Even if he (Obama) is a Muslim, how does it matter?”.  Surely, it shouldn’t matter to a country that has separated state and religion. It seems ridiculous to the utmost degree to assume, especially in this case, that Obama’s supposed Islamic faith might interfere with the interests of America. I said supposed because Obama is an avowed practitioner of Christianity. But even if he were a practicing Muslim, it would be retarded to assume that he is a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a religion by itself that parasites on all religions of the world- Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christanity. But Palin and McCain are counting on the people’s ignorance of that, aren’t they? Treat that as another rhetorical question.

 

 

 

 

 

01
Jul
07

Something To Answer For by P.H.Newby

This out of print novel by P.H.Newby, was the first book to win the prestigious booker prize. After a brief search on Google, I found a few sites that were selling it for around $250. Much as I wanted to read it, I couldn’t find it in my paltry stipend to provide for such steeply priced antiquarian literature. I therefore decided to search my university library for it, having found in the past, impressive volumes I could never find in conventional book stores.  When I did find a copy in the library, I felt numbed seeing the status show that it was available and regretted not having searched for the book in the library sooner. It didn’t surprise me to discover that I was the first to have borrowed the book since it arrived at the university library on the year of its publication-1969.

The reason I wanted to read this book was because I wanted to explore its archetypical stlye that might have set the tone for its successors; whether or not it actually did is debatable. Newby’s novel is set in Port Said, which was a part of the formerly known United Arab Republic, a joint state constituting the republics of Egypt and Syrria. The protagonist is an Englishman (who claims to be Irish) named Townrow who is visiting the widow of Elie Khoury, a friend. The widow herself is an English woman in her sixties whose property is in danger of being confiscated by the Egyptian authorities. It is important to note that the story takes place during Naseer’s reign since the novel heavily relies on the politics surrounding the Canalization. My ignorance of the politics of the region certainly made it very difficult for me to maintain my interest level. Even as the narrative progressed, I hadn’t formed an adequate impression of the principal characters: Townrow Mrs.Khoury, Abravanel and Leah and except for a few incidents, most of the details have escaped my memory. I think this is partly because the author’s dry style of prose didn’t do much to bridge the gaps created by my own ignorance of the history of Port Said. That is not to say that the writing is deficient in the wit that normally characterizes most Booker winners. Consider this exchange between Leah and Townrow:

“Another thing, what did I say to offend you?” 

 “When?”

“In the car. You got out and walked off”

“You called me English. No Irishman likes that”

“Are you Irish?”

He frowned. He wished he could be sure.

 Finally, I’m not sure if “Something to Answer For” is worthy of the prize (I’ve read far better and far worse) but it is certainly worth a read, if not for anything else, just to be able to obtain a glimpse into the mood of the time and to try to find interest in the characters’ tensions. I also feel it would be worthwhile to trace why this book couldn’t find enough readership to stay in print since it might provide a clue into the workings of time on literary interest and popularity.  




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