Friday, December 18, 2015

Indian history, Islamic terrorism and optimism for a peaceful coexistence

I watched a nice talk in YouTube by the former senior medical officer of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai, titled, “Why Did Muslim Rulers Destroy Hindu Temples? Facts and Myths”. I learned many facts that I did not know before. But few of my friends doubted credibility of some of the facts mentioned there. I am not any historian and cannot vouch for credibility of all the facts. 

It's widely believed in India that almost all the ‘secular’ political parties and its loyalists appease and exploit religious minorities for electoral gain, distort facts to suit its own narrative of history. Misuse of religious sentiments and racial intolerance have worsened after current Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, came to power. But India got the dubious distinction to become the most racially intolerant country in the world, jointly with Bangladesh and Jordan, before Modi led BJP won last general election in 2014.

To me, it does not matter why those Muslim ‘invaders’ came to India, other than wealth and setting up a kingdom of its own, like any other king of that time, how many Hindu temples  were destroyed or how many people were killed by them. We must accept that none can change the past. But we can learn from it, so that we can avoid making the same mistake and build a better future- as a country where all of its citizens can live peacefully with shared prosperity.

In reality, all human came from central Africa. Then they migrated all over the world. There are two alternative theories on when first human arrived in India. One theory says modern human (Homo Sapiens) arrived in India around 70,000 years ago. The other theory postulate arrival of a closely related Homo heidelbergensis, who left Africa about 800,000 years ago, reached India about 250,000 years ago, while modern human (Homo sapiens) evolved in Africa about 190,000 years ago. We do not know if modern human and Homo heidelbergensis interbred and mixed genetically or to what extent. But we do know that Modern humans out competed the Neanderthal natives,so-called hobbits, in western Europe, but they did interbreed and it has huge consequence on subsequent human evolution and spread of civilizations as we see it today.

It will not be unfair to say that Indian Hindus and Muslims, who are mostly converted Hindus, came from abroad. Latest data show that upper caste Indians (mainly North Indians) are genetically closer to West European ancestry (so-called Aryans) than ‘indigenous’ Indian people, mainly the local tribes in north India and distinctive southern Indian population. Most Indian groups descend from a mixture of two genetically divergent populations, Ancestral North Indians (ANI) related to Central Asians, Middle Easterners, Caucasians, and Europeans; and Ancestral South Indians (ASI) not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent. The date of mixture is unknown. One estimate postulate that ANI-ASI mixture dates ranging from about 1,900 to, 4200 years ago.

Violence and hatred in the name of religion or caste or any such issue is basically ignorance, compounded by a very innate human nature to prove its own individual supremacy. People of different faith or religion, race etc are interacting more, live in more multi-cultural societies these days. The consequence of something or fault of someone else is quickly passed onto others very fast these days. Local issues are not so local or limited in its impact. World refugee crisis and global Islamic terrorism, including so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks inspired by extreme religious ideology from abroad, are not so uncommon.

Muslims are the worst victim of sectarian and/or religious violence in the name of IslamThe most favored destinations of refugees displaced due to religions or caste or tribal conflicts worldwide, are western secular democracies like USA and countries in western Europe. Muslims are no exception. Indian history provide an excellent opportunity to understand it. Western world is relatively new in this game, openly acknowledged Islamic terrorism mainly after 9/11 terror attack.

More we learn and analyze, more we realize the need to treat the ignorance and our human desire to prove individual supremacy. We can get a very realistic, practical example during our marriage, when most of us try to defame, demean the in-laws, find fault in others during marriage. For many it become a constant thorn in conjugal relationship in subsequent years. To solve the issues, we need to accept faults of both the sides without being biased. The target is to make that relationship and marriage successful, happy; and not to prove whose family is better, more civilized, more educated, more cultured etc. The same analogy is equally valid for religious intolerance, hatred and terrorism. 

It does not matter much even if Babur or other Muslim kings came and ruled India with a very bad intention of insulting Hindus, destroying ‘Indian’ culture, which does not seem to be true. Most importantly, we cannot undo it. We better target the ideology of supremacy than the people following such irrelevant or distorted ideology. The war on Islamic terrorism can never be won by using only force in India or Europe or America or middle-east or other parts of the world. It will also be counter-productive to ban Muslims from entering USA, as some American politicians are suggesting.

Muslims need to understand that everything written in Quran is not right and cannot be the basis to live one's life, particularly in a multi-cultural, secular democracy. yes, I read Quran (english translation, of course). There are too many  verses in Quran that openly incites hatred and violence, mainly against non-believers. Many more against women and other minorities. Throwing few verses of peace from Quran or loudly chanting, “Islam is the religion of peace” would not help much. It would not erase the fact that there is not a single country in this world with Muslim majority population where religious minorities flourished and its population increased, based on percentage of total population. The rate of decrease of minorities cannot be explained simply by the difference in birth rate. On the other hand, the number of Muslims almost always increased in any secular democracy, including India, USA and UK.

We are yet to understand why so many Muslims in non-Muslim majority or non-Islamic countries think they should be allowed to follow Islamic Sharia law, in totality or selectively. About 
51% Muslims in USA62% in Canada, 40% in UK42% in Russia and 77% in Thailand think that way. 
Generally speaking, support for Sharia among Muslims is very high in most Islamic countries in Africa and Asia, mainly where Quranic study is mandatory and judiciary is based on Sharia. Some secular democracies, like India, partially adopted Sharia for Muslims. It has a huge socio-political consequence. Many Indians are demanding abolishing such religion based laws there.  It's little more baffling considering the fact that support for Sharia law is far lower in many Islamic or Muslim majority countries, e.g. Turkey and Albania 12%, Lebanon 29%, Kazakhstan 10%. Such data from India is not available, as expected. It seems that Indian policy makers rely more on political correctness, personal faith and electoral equation than hard data and logic. 

Here, we need to understand that Sharia law does not come from Quran, but was inspired by Quran and teaching of Prophet Muhammad, as its followers perceive it (this is very crucial). There are only few verses in Quran dealing with legal matters. The classic Sharia law took shape around 900 AD, long after Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632. Islamic specialists in legal matters in Middle Eastern Arab countries assembled handbooks for judges to use in making their decisions. Sharia was not a code of laws, but a body of religious and legal scholarship which continued to develop for the next thousand years. 

The experience of Hamtramck, MI, the Muslim majority city in the USA is not that great for most non-Muslim residents there and rest of America. Once the Muslims got majority in the city, they changed city law and gave permission to broadcast its call to prayer (Azan) from loudspeakers atop its roof. It also started teaching Quran in public schools. If the Muslim residents were so annoyed by church bells, as their leaders claim in the BBC report, they should petition city council to stop or minimize Church bells during weekend prayers, rather than starting their own 7 days a week and 5 times a day loud affair. It must not be allowed in any civilized secular democracy. It raises concern for non-Muslims when Muslims become majority. Such experiences seem to have helped Michigan Governor to be among the first to oppose Syrian refugee resettlement in USA and most importantly in the state of Michigan.

After talking to few educated Muslims from around the world, I realized that people who follow Islam and believe in every word of Quran, do not agree that religion is a personal matter and must remain personal. They also do not agree in the definition of justice, the way we in the western world and other democracies believe, i.e., in short, “greater good for larger number of people”. It's very disturbing.

It seems that many moderate Muslims who were brought up in western societies (e.g. Irshad Manji) are more interested in changing the interpretation of many of the verses of Quran. They do not say that everything written in Quran is not true or right, Quran cannot be the basis for living in modern civilized societies, and, one can remain a devout Muslim despite of not accepting each and every word in Quran.

Many do believe that extremist groups like Islamic State (IS or Daesh), Taliban, Al-Quida etc actually interpret Quran more accurately, accept as it’s written. We hear so much about IS these days, mainly due to its very brutal rule and practice of Islam. All western and even most conservative Islamic countries like wahhabi Sunni Saudi Arab and Shia Iran oppose IS. They are engaged in intense military conflict in Syria and Iraq. All these governments want to establish 'representative government' there. Most of these military powers, except Russia and Iran (who support Syrian regime), bet on non-IS rebel groups. But a recent poll says that about 60% in these Syrian rebel groups support IS ideology.

Perception of Islam by these extremists and terrorists would not change much by the peaceful verses in Quran. They will find enough motivation from many other verses that preach violence, hatred and dominance over others.  

Educated and moderate Muslims need to understand that they have to come out aggressively and assertively, as few rare Muslims are trying. Many educated Muslims living in western countries or other secular democracies do not practice Islam in day-to-day life. But they are reluctant to admit that openly. It can be for several reasons, including fear of being ostracized by their Muslim friends and relatives and fear from the extremists. But they have a bigger responsibility, as they are the people who are more interested to live in prosperous, peaceful secular democracies compared to those who believe in extremism in the name of Islam in middle-east or other parts in Islamic world.

Ultimately, the reform of Islam has to come from within, within the Muslim community. Such change can never be successful or sustainable if imposed from outside or via force. Educated and moderate Muslims have to assert the Muslims from less fortunate background that one can still remain a Muslim by accepting that everything written in Quran is not right. Moreover, they do not need any certificate from anyone else, religious priests or otherwise, to decide how to become or remain a Muslim, so long they are following the law of the land, remain ethical and honest to their duties as a human being. It’s equally applicable to any other issue of racial intolerance to prevent downfall of any society and country. The impact of Quran is more profound on Muslims than Bible over Christians, or Gita over Hindus.

One example is dietary restrictions based on religious belief- like eating pork or beef. Pork is equally banned for Christians (as per Bible- Old Testament) and Jews, for the same reason as in Islam- “it’s unclean, as it has split hooves and do not chew cud”. Many, if not most, Christians and Jews eat pork and openly admit it. Many Hindus do not eat beef thinking that it’s banned by Hindu religion. Then, there are many Hindus who eat beef. The famous Hindu philosopher and social reformer Vivekananda was among them. I wish I could tell the same about Muslims.

For me, it’s not so important why the Muslim rulers came and set up its empire in Hindu India. It’s more important what can we learn from our history to make a better, more prosperous and peaceful future for all of us. Everyone likes to live peacefully and help their children to have a better life. Sustained peace is possible only via justice or righteousness. The educated and moderate Muslims can do it. But it can happen only when they themselves are convinced. Mere lip service or fear would not help. Otherwise, neither Islamic terrorism nor this 'conflict of civilizations' will end peacefully. Chanting the mantra of peace does not guarantee peace, neither wishful thinking is any strategy to solve any issue. At the end of the day, people will get what they deserve. It doesn't matter much if they like the outcome or not.

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  1. One question why extremists groups like Al-Qaida or ISIS suddenly become so prominent or rather effective? Definitely something inherent in Islam has not changed much from Babur time till date.
    Here is my own analysis: While growing up in Calcutta, India, I always had friends who are from other religious backgrounds including Muslims. All of us celebrated Durga Puja, Christmas and Id together. Tried beef biryani and bacon with equal relish as Ilish and never felt our religion had been any hindrance. Something changed in the past 2 decades, people with full clad burqa became common site in some localities like Park Circus, Muslim friends stopped inviting during Id, more mosques grew up like mushrooms around the city, most strikingly I preferred to celebrate Christmas with my Christian or Hindu friends and avoiding Muslims and they stopped at some point. Few things may be the cause: rise in Muslim population make them more visible, people become aware of radical Islam and striking back at them as retaliation to protect their own identity, other religions are evolving causing a big reef between the beliefs and atheists among Muslims are not common as among Jews/Christians or Hindus (as you mentioned). So it may be a combination of all.
    There is no doubt about one fact that in the past few decades Islam or radical Islam is causing enough destruction and harm to human civilization which none other has ever done. So it should be the highest priority for any citizen of any country who wants to advance the human race.

  2. One hypothesis i wish to advance to explain why Islam has become hardened over time. Would be happy to hear evidence to contrary.

    All religions have bigotted texts. So, a competition as to which one has worse ideas will probably see no winners. Having said that, there were periods in history when muslims were the more progressive. Science,maths and art went through a period of revival in the 8-12 century which did have an impact on the Renaissance period in the west. So how come Quran did not incapacitate the muslims then. I think, as you suggest, it's the peculiar econimic situation and the sort of rulers that explain the outcome on art and science. The silk route and the Arabian sea trade made the middle east a haven for traders who by nature have to keep even their bigoted views to themselves. Even in the early 8th century, there is evidence of muslims settling on the Malabar coast to oversee the lucrative spice trade because the Hindus forbade their co-religionists from crossing the ocean as it was considered bad omen.

    I think the subsequent decline of muslim empires followed by (in 20th century) installation of bigoted and dictatorial regimes after the discovery of oil, has led to the current outcome. Religion had wronged sense of history has been used to establish a deep sense of frustration in the psyche of people. Nothing united people more than an identified enemy (which is what Donald Trump is also trying). This frustration along with illiteracy and poverty is the cause of this outcome. If you study defense mechanisms in psychology, you will understand the various patterns of muslim behaviour:

    1. Rationalisation: Explaining all current problem caused by West especily Americans. And the Americans also do enough to reinforce this image
    2. Identification: Uniting under a group or person. Seeing Quran and Sharia law as the solution to all ills
    3. Displacement: Instead of blaming the middle east and African despotic rulers for supression, they identify the west as the satan.
    4. Projection: Being hostile to anyone who wishes to advice a way forward
    5. Regression: Immature behaviour including trolling, sharing clips of some wgir dude converting to Islam etc.,
    6. Reaction formation: Converting hatred to love (Islam loves all sort of views)
    7. Repression: Bottling up hatred which cooks and vents itself at some time the way it has happened in recent times.

    India has been insulated from all this because of lack of a single religious belief (Hinduism itself is divided into many beliefs without a single unifying book), democracy and a tradition of tolerance.

    However, with economic problems likely to loom large : A young aspiring population, corrupt politicians, slow growth and rising inequity - it may lead to a more frustrated, angry and morally bankrupt society. The hindu nationalists are trying to harvest this frustration with a wrong sense of history. I am concerned if such an experiment may become successful. If so, we may end up in a future with a similar bigoted behaviour that we see in the islamic world.

    On a related note, my reading of various genetic projects (usinf dna, RNA, mitochondria) indicate a timeline for intermingling to 25000-10000 years. I see this as more logical for the following reasons:

    A. First group moves in early from Africa
    B. A second group moves to Europe abd cycles around later and intermingling

    Castes formed much later because the Indian society intermixing stopped some 4000 before. The level of intermixing of 40/60 vs. 60/40 in north and south indicates a longer period of engagement.

    The 4000 year story supports the Aryan/Dravidian theory (of being driven out of Indus valley) which is not supported by any archeological evidence or lingustic studies.

    The theory of migration also talks of several waves and not necesarily two distinct waves. This slow also explains most lf what one observes.

    1. Mohan, Yes, Arab world once at its very best in science and technology, exploration and other noble human endeavors. Then it declined in those capacities. It roughly correlates with rise and strengthening of Islam in that region, that started around 700 AD (Muhammad died in 632 AD). And you rightly suggested those patterns of Muslim behavior that help such decline- unabated so far.
      There is a nice article in “The Economist” on it-
      Now it’s unbelievable that one of the greatest grape varieties to produce best quality wine was developed in Iran around 8th century. The name of the grape variety came from the city it was developed- Shiraz. This is one of my favorite wine classes (besides Pinot Noir). That time many places in Middle East was famous for its wine, as we identify France and Italy today.

    2. Caste system among Hindus has a very conflicting and contradicting time scale. It's widely believed that caste system originated after Saint Manu (again, too many controversies about his/their identity and time scale) wrote Manusmriti. But, as expected, there is confusion about when it was written- variously dated to be from 2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE-
      Eighteenth century philologists Sir William Jones and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel assigned Manusmriti to the period of around 1250 BCE and 1000 BCE respectively.[12] Later scholarship, shifted the chronology of the text to between 200 BCE and 200 CE.[13][14] Olivelle adds that numismatics evidence, and the mention of gold coins as a fine, suggest that text may date to 2nd or 3rd-century CE.[15]
      But whatever be the date, even the oldest one cannot be more than 2500 years.

  3. Perhaps on the world context, one must delve deeper in the History of middle east since the world wars, to identify what insecurity caused the general population to take umbrage to the closer knit belief of the ancient texts. What deeper scar did the etching out of Israel with the money power of the world and the votes in the UN left with the populace ( not the sheiks and Khalifas ) need to be explored. What exactly is the picture drawn by the oppressing west of the Muslims in the country? Fools, thieves, killers, groups which can easily be bought . How many western creation do you see which tries to understand and really provides equality to a bearded man with a topi? The Europe looted, US took over during the oil regime. It voted in Israel for Jew were a stronger politico economic influence within.The Arab to Afghans were mostly nomad traders. That trade was erased systematically, bringing instead buyer for their own resource alone- Oil. When a counter to it have grown across generations , it has actually forgotten the architectures of the domes of a mosque, it has forgotten the science it had, instead across countries they have got back to their identity of a community of powerful fighters. And as perhaps least progressive atheist mentality or other isms have been allowed to flow in into a vast set of countries which have always remained totalitarian, the force within has erupted with the Qur'an in hand , and with the physical fitness of the regular namazis. The physical strength have in turn received sponsors and weaponry to be the power. And the killing within the brotherhood has gone to the maximum level. In isolated pockets attack has found the external enemy, and the so called west retaliated with even more wider destruction, creating the surge in alignment with the power in the community.
    The early migrants to west have remained second class citizens and have failed to penetrate the socio political insider dynamics. Resulting in underlying spread of hatred.

    1. Thanks Subhojeet for your comments. Yes, some countries in Middle-east, mainly Iran-Iraq area, was one of the major centers of ancient civilizations, prospered a lot in terms of science and technology. But that’s long before Islam arrived there (around 600 AD) and strengthen its grip in that region. Islam is also the only mainstream religion that started not with message of peace by via violence and war and accepting or refusing it was not much voluntary that time. Decreasing openness of the society and then downfall of Mesopotamian civilization roughly correlates with spread of Islam and then strengthening grip of religious fundamentalism.
      I fully full sympathy with Palestine plight. But we also need to remember the legitimate right of the Jews in that region- before they were almost forced to migrate due to growing power and influence of Islam. Yes, it was WW2 and win of Allied power (with Britain and US) paved way for creation of the Jews state. But its root goes far deeper than that.
      Discovery of internal combustion engine in Europe and then oil in middle east, again by European did affect the fate of the region and three religions associated with that area in Israel. And none, absolutely none of the middle eastern countries ever developed suitable and neutral institutions, came any close to democracy and secularism that help building a more egalitarian society with effective and neutral institutions. Yes, it was western powers that initially propped up puppet kings/sultans and then it was replaced by more theological rulers- as in two main power centers of that region- Sunni Saudi Arab and Shia Iran. Now whole middle east is divided in that two camp- Shia camp backed by Iran (and Russia) and Sunni (backed by Western powers and Turkey). And in both cases Islam and Quran plays the most crucial role. They also export their -ism to rest of the world, as Islam is the fastest growing region among underdeveloped countries and a section of people in developed world too.

  4. The indian context have always been different. And I dont think we can judge it by keeping Pakistan and Bangladesh out of it. The vast polity was actually put through a thoroughly unnatural exercise of nation making. Perhaps An Indian subcontinent of 100s of smaller country states slowly merging into an US/ European Union like federated structure may have worked wonders to keep the overall subcontinent under lesser turmoil. But then, it is difficult to explore such thoughts without being Branded seditious. I still wonder, the amount of soft hate we pass along among machlikhor, khotta tetul, marus and Chinkis would have actually been there if the states were more independent than they are today. And the so called Neres are always absolute outside this identity. How many Hindu Bengalis would acknowledge that world wide, there are more muslim bangalis than Hindus?

    1. Now coming to India. Yes, fate of Indian subcontinent was intermingled together for quite long time. Lately it started changing.
      Contrary to popular belief among Indians, racial and ethnic diversity in India is same as that in USA or Spain. Check this map of “the world’s most and least ethnically diverse countries”-
      In India we see so much variation in culture, language, food, dress and so many issues. But we do not see those here in USA and we start thinking that USA is less racially/ethnically diverse. That’s wrong way to look at it. In India we the people and Govt actually encourage keeping separate identity as we are yet to find national identity or character. Our secularism is no different. We think being secular means everyone has the constitutional right to do whatever they feel like in public, depending on his/her idea of religion. So we block roads for puja or Namaj, disturb whole neighborhood for celebrating Diwali or offering namaz five times a day using loudspeakers – even on odd hours and so on. We never learn that secularism is a common set of rules that every citizen must follow in public.
      When a person from Nigeria or Saudi or India or somewhere else come to USA, they initially maintain their own identity in terms of dress, language, food habit. Gradually s/he understand that it’s far easier for him/her to assimilate into American mainstream. His/her dress, ‘culture’ (public behavior) start changing. So after few years, s/he is as good as an American and any new comer hardly can differentiate him/her from her dress, food habit etc. The same is true for shops, malls etc. Almost every Walmart superstore or Target or Costco would look the same in NY or LA or Chicago or Madison. But that does not mean all these people from all over the world are ethnically same or follow same religion or so.
      In India, in every step we are reminded our difference with another Indian. And it’s almost always that he minorities who suffer the most. Now we can define “minority” by every possible means- religion, caste, language, skin color, state of origin, gender, age etc. On the other hand few privileges are restricted and fiercely protected for few ‘minorities’- now “minorities’ are defined by socio-political hierarchy, income, employment hierarchy etc and such feudal rules are applicable within one single family too. That feudal character provokes us to find excuses and blame others- sometimes it’s Muslim and/or Brit ‘invaders’, sometimes conspiracy of the West or Communists (Russia-China) and so on. We hardly understand and/or accept that by blaming others nothing much is going to change. We fail to learn from history but wrongly day dream to become a developed country, become a permanent member of UN security council member and world power.

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  6. Sir i really appreciate your work as i came to know about many new things from your article
    I just want to put my opinion about the radicalisation of Muslims i have read many news reports about the arrest of well educated youths who are actually quite well off socially and financially but still they are being lured by ISIS propoganda nad fall prey to their radical thinking someof them have vene crosse dover to war torned battle zone of syria ,Yemen and iraq this really disturbs we have talked alot about their alienation and they have been left behind on socio ecomomic parameters of education ,health ans so on so forth but these Muslim men have the equal platform to shocase there talent and do good for themselves and society as a whole but why did they opt to become Jihadi .I will be glad to get your opinion on this issue.


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