Thursday, August 02, 2007

Offending religious groups

Why are we so scared of offending Muslims? - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine

Christopher Hitchens by his own admission is
"one who has occasionally challenged Islamic propaganda in public and been told that I have thereby "insulted 1.5 billion Muslims".
In this fantastic piece, he goes into why people (at least in the US) are scared of offending Muslims. His thesis (that is quite obvious, IMO) is that the demand for "respect" from religious groups is usually accompanied by subtle but definite threats of violence.

It is common knowledge that a sword, regardless of who it is used by, cuts. So, when people who shout their throats hoarse at perceived slights indulge in acts hostile to other groups, they should understand that they will be paid back in their own currency.

Several communities all over the world are taking these "perceived" slights very seriously. In some cases, they may be warranted, but in most they are blown out of proportion.

For example is the "Anu deva" book controversy in Karnataka. I know that this book contains some apparently disrespecting observations about Sri Basaveshwara, one of the foremost reformers of Karnataka. But what I really know is that the veerashaiva lobby in Karnataka is perceived as one of the most powerful and that anyone going against it will be penalized.

Hindu icons have been put on sandals and slippers and toilet seats, which have then been withdrawn after sufficient activism. As a Hindu, I did feel offended at these acts. I probably did write a post or two about it. But if some one had asked me to walk on the road in a procession protesting it, I don't know if I would have done it - because, who would I be showing this to? It would definitely not be to hold up traffic in Bangalore! I suppose the amount of shrill rhetoric in the matter would have determined the course of my action.

It somewhat seems that this victim/oppressor game is being played at all places in the world stage. They themselves are always victims whereas the other party becomes the oppressors. In the Hindu/Muslim case, Hindus feel that they are the victims because Muslim rulers are historically known to have destroyed several thousand temples and killed millions of Hindus. Muslims on the other hand feel that what was rightfully theirs now belongs to the "kafirs" - who even went to the extent of destroying their masjid. Their gripe is also that they are being targeted by the Government and other groups solely account of their religion. Also, the fact that Hindus are "idol"-worshippers and are not "people of the book" is another, albeit smaller, reason.

Another example: The USA is playing victim after September 11 and the larger Muslim world feels victimized (sometimes rightly, I feel) most of the time.

This victim/oppressor game is a dangerous one. Also, it looks like all groups are in unison as far as the remedial measures go. The remedy as each group sees it would be to completely subdue the "oppressor" a la David subduing Goliath. And this is a dangerous trend.

The only remedy, as I see it, is the practice of "live and let live" by everybody, all the groups. When people start seeing each other as human beings and not as ideological enemies, this world will become a better place.

I suppose all groups know this simple fact. But the irony is that they don't want to be the first to adopt that world view.


parijata said...

Very well written.
Sometimes there is no doubt as to who the victim is and who the oppressor, but usually both the victim and the oppressor are at fault. It is in our nature. We do not want anyone else to meddle in our affairs, but would like to be given the freedom to meddle in others.

'Live and let live' is often a 'pustakada badanekaayi', nothing more. I may sound very pessimistic, but of late I have come across nothing that can goad me into taking a more positive view of affairs.

Aram said...

Very timely post.

A very, very important subject on which action needs to be taken urgently.

Wish that this can be posted in as many community blogs in as many languages as possible so that it will inspire discussion leading to clarity of vision and ultimately action on everybody's part.

However, one small issue really outside the spirit of your post.

"Hindu icons have been put on sandals and slippers and toilet seats, which have then been withdrawn after sufficient activism. As a Hindu, I did feel offended at these acts."

It is but natural to see Hiranyakashipus and "Kafirs" condemning the Gods we worship. It is easy to take offence.

But let us try to be Prahladas.

Should a true Hindu who believes in God being present in "anurenu trna kaashta..." really feel offended?

Here is a story of the Marathi saint, Naamadeva.

"....... It is said that a remarkable thing happened then. Vitthala, seeing Namadeva so depressed, tried to cheer him up. Namadeva said, "I was insulted in Gora Kumbaara's house."

"Gora has rightly tested. One who does not surrender to Sadguru is an unbaked pot," said Vitthala.

This indeed was the last straw on the camel's back. Namadeva completely lost his poise.

"I came to you with the fond hope of getting relieved of my sorrow. But you too speak in the same way as they spoke! Where do I go now?"

"Where elso do you go? Go to a Sadguru and surrender to him. Then you will overcome this feeling of differences."

"0, my Lord, why do I need a Sadgu aren’t you enough for me?"

Then the Lord told him, "Namadeva, I too during my incarnation as Rama had bowed down to revered sage Vashishta taking him as my Guru and had gained spiritual knowledge from him. Next in myincarnation as Krishna I had taken revered Sandeepa as my Guru by earnestly appealing to him. If you were to take my suggestion and act accordingly, you will be honored by all the saints."

Namadeva made obeisance to the Lord and asked, "To whom shall I surrender?"

"There is one Visoba lying now in the temple of Mallikarjuna. He is a great Jnani. Go to him and win his fervors to be your Guru."

Hearing these words, Namadeva burst into tears. "0 my master, I can't leave you even for a moment."

"You must seek refuge in a Guru. That is the only way - right and proper," said Vitthala firmly. At this Namadeva left that place.

As suggested by Panduranga he went to the temple of Mallikarjuna.

There is also a story about the meeting of Namadeva with Visoba. Visoba Samba was lying on the floor with his feet resting on the Shivalinga. Seeing this shocking sight, Namadeva felt bad. He thought it was a bad omen. He awoke Visoba and said, "I hear that you are a great saint. Here you are resting your feet on the very God Shankara.

Is it proper?"

Visoba replied, "True, it is wrong. But I am too weak to get up. Can you please do me the favor of lifting my feet and placing them where there is no Shankara? Fruits of a good turn will be yours."

Namadeva lifted his feet and kept them on a place near by. Lo, what a wonder! There was a Shivalinga visible now under Visoba's feet. Namadeva got frightened as much as he was surprised. He once again changed the place to rest Visoba's feet. There again a Linga was seen. He then put Visoba's feet on still another place where again a Linga appeared underneath. In this way wherever he placed Visoba's feet, there appeared a Linga beneath! Namadeva realized that Shankara was everywhere and everything was Shankara. His egoism was effaced. He thought that he too was Shiva. "That was how", say the' devotees, "Namadeva realized the glory of his Guru Visoba."

-- aram

nIlagrIva said...

Interesting comment. I didn't expect you to say that "live and let live" is "pustakada badanekAyi" because "live and let live" is what sustains the whole world anyway. Otherwise, the whole world would be in chaos all the time!

It has been a long time since I saw your comments. Thanks for a thought-provoking one.

The reason for my mentioning the "sandal" thing is because I really felt offended. I am part of the world too. One big reason for the offense is definitely that information travels much faster nowadays.And the news is often manipulated quite subtly that it is bound to tick people off.

However, I still have a concern there when you shared those stories about the "ideal" Hindu. I understand that God is omnipresent and all but there are representations of God that are revered by a certain community. But the stories you mentioned are ideals for regular people to emulate; so lofty that it is normally considered unreachable. For example, would you spit on the national flag or your loved one's photograph? You know intellectually that these are just representations of the ideal but would you really be OK doing that? How would you feel if the picture of someone you revere (a real person) is put on a toilet seat?

However, Hinduism is so much flexible that so many people for a long time have joked on their favorite deities. Pictures of deities on toilet seats is going too far. But what you do to protest is very important. For example, Hindus won't go burning up places and attacking policemen and law enforcement personnel.

However, this was not what a certain section of the community did when they got offended. There were incidents all over the world instead of just in the country of the incident's origin. My question is - why do you have to do that?

Nevertheless, this "victim" mentality is a mass contagion that has to be lessened considerably if not eliminated.

I hope you better understand now what I have been trying to convey.

Aram said...

Yes, I was absent for some time.

My silly posts in sampada were commented so scaldingly that a ram in my lappy got "burnt" and it took a week to get it repaired, though aram himself was not too damaged.

Yes, I know about the story of spitting on the photo (Vivekananda to a Maharaja in Travancore or somewhere).

It is but only natural to take offense and if we do, what is the difference between them and us?

Maybe in the way we protest as you rightly said in your reply.

A common code is an absolute must.

As you rightly said, the grateness of the Hindu way of life lies in its tolerance and sense of humor - we make fun of our dollu hotte ganapa, we worship everything from a vruksharaja to parvataraja to a sookara ( whose very name is suvvar to some).

The very mention of the national flag is scary and I eagerly await KK Venugopal's arguments in NRNM's case.

Penguin India has commissioned a new series of books, Retro Revival. One of the authors featured is my all-time favorite Peter O'Donnell.

I got the entire set of 13 books of his Modesty Blaise series.

A small story in of these books deals with an athletic catholic priest who like Gandhi preaches non-violence even when the mob tries to kill him; he tries to prevent Modesty from tackling the villains. A beautiful story that ends finally in the priest making use of his athletic prowess to throw a grenade successfully at the mob.

The moral of that story, and as preached in the Geeta (?), as practised by the Israelis, and as I once jokingly heard from a general manager of a govt. bank a long time ago is simply this: It is better that I cut your throat first before you cut mine.

Thomas L. Friedman ( of "The World Is Flat" fame) has written a beautiful book, " From Beirut To Jerusalem."

William Dalrymple's "From The Holy Mountain" is about the violence in the Middle East right from the days of Christ.

The Tipping Point (?) describes how the crime rate in New York drastically fell when Giuliani's police force started punishing even the graffiti writers.

Pardon me for letting myself go on ranting. I lack the brevity and wit of "Seriously Sandeep" (

I see that the very first entry in his bookshelf on his site is the "90 Minutes At Entebbe."

Pardon me if i appear to harp on non-violence on one hand and advocate cutting throats on the other hand.

My first comment was written before I read Modesty Blaise's priest's story.

your "pustakada badanekaayi" reminds me of a bestseller pustaka... "Live and LET DIE."

mullannu mullinindaley tegeyabekallavey?

-aramisharam; so, let us not rest aram sey !

Aram said...

The Swiss people have always cherished their neutrality.

They have always hated war and have never been in one for the last 800 years.

Yet, military service is compulsory and they are always prepared for war.

contrarian said...

"amount of shrill rhetoric in the matter would have determined the course of my action."

-- honest confession

Is heaven heaven if it gets upset at mere dogs barking

would the hindi gods legendary prowess diminish if images are put on doormats and toilets

if god lives within can anybody cause separation or damage

nIlagrIva said...

Heaven will never get upset if dogs bark. It is not the Hindi (sic) gods that get upset when put on doormats but the people that revere the gods. To make you understand, let me just repeat my example - if your father's picture is spit upon, your father won't have a problem. But I will be surprised if you don't have one.

Extending this example to the other group, do you think the Prophet is really bothered because of somebody's tomfoolery? Why the protest then?

contrarian said...

you are provoked an my purpose is met
why the protest then
the protest is to irritate to provoke to cause anger and lose mind
to create an excuse to prepare the ground for a fight
the purpose is amply met if the fight appens
why does somebody spit on my fathers pic
to deliberately make me angry and act in anger
anger makes loss of mind and judgment
the resultant acts provide enough reason to make the fight a dirty one
biting back the biting dog is foolish
consigning it to a pen or in extreme case termination is rational
i need to keep my cool

nIlagrIva said...

I am not provoked. If I were really provoked, I would not even reply to your comment. Isn't just deleting your comment easier? That example of spitting is from Swami Vivekananda who tried it on a king of an Indian state. It was just to show the importance people attach to representations.

Are you saying people are protesting so that they can justify a bigger fight later? Do those people really want to fight that big a fight?

Or are you saying that the protests are being engineered so that the resultant acts of the protest can trigger off another bigger fight? In this case, aren't the protesters playing into the hands of those who engineer them? Wouldn't it be better for people to see through these machinations?

Anyway, I don't understand you clearly enough. Please clarify.

contrarian said...

foreign agencies are out to foment trouble with prayer places turning into breeding grounds
personally the mumbai blasts almost ended our world
a multipronged strategy is needed
minor irritants involving gods etc are to be ignored to conserve attention energy to formulate implement strategies to contain the larger real threat

Aram said...

I found the following interesting - dialogue between Palahalli and Shailendra Mathur in

comment # 161 and 163 which is reproduced below:-

"Shailendra Mathur
Shailendra Mathur
Posted July 24, 2007 at 9:37 am | Permalink
Its convenient to blame the US, Europe and the biggest culprits of all - “the Jews” for all troubles in the Islamic world. I guess someday the Muslims will say that the hateful verses in the Koran have also been inserted by CIA due to a deep rooted conspiracy.

Meanwhile something else for you to chew on :

The possible fallout scenarios due to terrorism in the coming decades. One of these scenarios has come from a full length book called America Alone by Mark Steyn. The scenarios are fun to read . And we of course know what the Indians will do, considering the secular combo of Left + Congress ruling the Indian psyche.

Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:01 am
| Permalink

@Palahalli: Dude there is no easy
solution that will work with little or no collateral damage. Since I am much less knowledgeable on this issue as compared to Ali Sina or Ibn Warraq, let me in a nutshell tell you what they think.

1. Islam is a barbaric cult, just like Nazism and Communism, and it must be destroyed just like those cults were. Does this necessarily mean killing all or most of the Muslims? No, definitely not! As you had earlier pointed out Muslims are the biggest victims of Islamism. Liquidating the Soviet Union and the “Evil Empire” did not involve killing too many ordinary citizens, and I don’t see why we should not be able to eradicate Islam without too many casualties.

2. The swiftest and most painless way to destroy Islam is by disseminating information about it to the entire world. Fact is, not too many Muslims read the Hadiths and not too many of them understand the Koran either. Once the truth gets out that Mohammad was a rapist, paedophile, mass murderer, schizophrenic, epileptic, delusional, megalomaniacal bigot most educated and intelligent people will want to distance themselves from him. This is already happening. Go to the testimonials section of Ali Sina’s website to find out what Muslim apostates have to say about Islam.

3. We will need to stop treating Islam with kidgloves and reserve for it the contempt that we had earlier dished out to Communism and Nazism. Once Hitler was defeated, the allies discredited Nazism to such an extent that even inside Germany it was no longer fashionable to call oneself a Nazi. In Soviet Union, Marx and Lenin and Stalin are no longer heroes. Similarly we need to discredit the ideology of Islam, so that Islam is viewed by people as a disease and Mohammad is viewed as a psychological oddity. All we need to prove is, Islam has not come from God. Discrediting Mohammad is enough to achieve this end.

This is the easy and time consuming way out. The difficult way is the military option.

The third way is non-cooperation. It can be achieved in this way :

1. Deport all Muslims back to their countries of origin and mainitain a moratorium on further Muslim migration. If they hate the West so much they might as well stay in their own countries.

2. Most Muslim countries suffer from misgovernance, high birth rates, extreme poverty and a propensity towards violence. Immigration to the West acts as a safety valve which absorbs some of these pressures. Stopping immigration will cause Muslims to start killing each other (witness what is happening in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq) and a tremendous turmoil will result in the Muslim world. Possibly some of them may come to the conclusion that Islam is the cause of their problems and they may want to root out the filth of Islam.

The fourth way is, help the moderate Muslims (Daniel Pipes prefers this way). It is now generally acknowledged that Iranians are tired of their Mullah led government, and as many as 85% of them may opt for a secular, non Islamic way of life given a chance. An outright invasion (Iraq like) may not work, but if the US provides military help to dissident factions within Iran, it may be possible to overthrow the current regime.

If Iran falls, the repercussions will be widely felt in the Muslim world. The entire Muslim world depends on the logic of nos - argumentum ad numerum (1.2 billion people cannot be incorrect). Rejection of Islam by Iranians will sow the first seed of doubt in the minds of the Muslims."
Also, comment # 167 by Daniel Voicu reveals that a hot discussion was on even in Rumania on Aavarana.

Is this the first time that a Kannada book has achieved such fame?

Daniel Voicu
Posted August 9, 2007 at 2:07 am | Permalink
Hello. The post
is written in Romanian. If you want, i will ask Diana to get you an English version of it. We can translate it if you want…

Aram said...

Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great - How Religion Poisons Everything" is now available at Blossoms on Church Street.

However, the reviews are not quite flattering.

nIlagrIva said...

Hitchens is a known atheist. While agnosticism is probably more palatable to theists, atheism is definitely not. That is probably one reason for ticking off so many people in the US which is more Christian than it lets on.

Another fellow traveler of Hitchens is Richard Dawkins of "The God Delusion".

Anyway, according to me, you can logically be an agnostic at the most and never an atheist. Of course, if it is just by belief, atheism stands on the same ground as theism (or any -ism) for that matter.

Switching tracks,AN Murthy Rao's "Devaru" in Kannada is one such work. For all his literary worth, poor ANM Rao gained fame (or notoriety) mostly because of this book. While his literary credentials are fine, this book comes across as pretty silly for one who has some casual acquaintance with Vedanta or Buddhist philosophy.

Thanks for the comments. They make me think differently.

Aram said...

"Thanks for the comments...."

--- I feel a little relief; always have hated imposing myself upon anybody.

"They make me think differently."
--- This blogging has made me acutely aware about the sensitivities, the depth of feelings and analysis of so many people. I am reassured that there is still hope for mankind.

Wish you and your family a very happy I-Day

Aram said...

Atheism -- I like Voltaire's argument - if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him."

The various Hindu beliefs, punarjanma, paapa-punya, these are all beautiful concepts, irrespective of whether they are true or untrue.

Aram said...

Here is an interesting observation by Edward Luce, Washington Bureau Chief, Financial Times and author of 'In spite of the Gods.'

"But in the grander scheme of things, Haneef's extended detention hardly merited the sense of injured nationalism I observed. One English-channel programme devoted an entire half-hour segment to the injustice of Haneef's situation without once referencing the hundreds of Indians, including Indian Muslims, languishing in Indian jails, many on the flimsiest of pretexts, not all of them in Gujarat and Kashmir.

"Nor in all of the (largely justified) criticisms aired about the excesses of Australian and British terrorist detention laws was there a serious effort to compare them with India's own panoply of antiterrorist and public order statutes, which are among the most sweeping in the democratic world.

".... But India maintains scattered Guantanamos. And unlike in the US, where the media is scrambling to atone for the dismal cheerleading it offered Bush in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, India's most influential news outlets rarely conduct sustained investigative reporting into human rights abuses at home.

"What has any of this got to do with India's 60th anniversary? One relatively commonplace observation..... Little else could explain the media's disproportionate focus on Haneef and New Delhi's own high-octane protestations. You would have thought Canberra had sent a gunboat into the Bay of Bengal."

...( there are lot of other interesting points in the article. Please read Outlook magazine, 20 August 2007 or visit

nIlagrIva said...

I too thought that the protestations by the Indian government were over the top. If the same thing had happened to an Indian belonging to some other religion, I somehow feel that, the PM would not have lost his sleep. Neither would possibly there be as much media coverage.