Saturday, February 27, 2010

Carnival: The Beat Goes On

By the 15th century, Carnival in the Italian city of Florence was already a time honored tradition. The city itself was ancient, having been a thriving commercial center during Pagan (Roman) times, as one of the most important cities in northern Etruria.

Although there are obvious Pagan influences, as a Christian holiday the celebration of Carnival in Italy obviously does not go back to Pagan Roman times. Evidence for Carnival does go back at least to the 12th century in Venice, although the first recorded use of the designation "Carnival" is from a little later, in a document dated 1268. Predictably this document was a law written specifically to regulate the activities of the Carnival revelers. Over the centuries such laws provide much of the historical evidence pertaining to Carnival, and that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the nature of this holiday!

But as the century of the Italian Renaissance drew to close, there was a new sheriff in town in Florence. In 1494 Girolamo Savonarola, with a little help from the King of France, overthrew the Medici family and established a "Christian Republic", with himself as it's leader. One of Savonarola's first acts was to increase the punishment for sodomy from the payment of a fine to the forfeit of one's life.

In addition to sodomy, Savonarola also sought to put an end to the frivolity, merry-making and law-breaking that had come to be associated with Carnival. But it should be remembered, though, that Carnival was then, as it is now, much more than just an excuse for lewd behavior and loud partying. It was also an extravagant outpouring of artistic creativity in the form of music, poetry and the visual arts. And it was also an extremely important commercial enterprise!

Florence's new leader wanted to replace all that merrymaking, artistry and money-grubbing with something completely different. Instead of rioutous nocturnal spectacles, Savonarola organized somber processions of boys, dressed in white. These boys went door to door collecting the "vanities" of the good people of Florence. These could be anything associated with moral degeneracy: books on philosophy and science, paintings and sculptures representing mythological themes, editions of Homer and Cicero and other Pagan authors, games of any kind, musical instruments, colorful clothing, perfume, make-up, anything whatsoever that might give pleasure to mind or body.

The word "vanity" comes from the latin "vanitas", which means "emptiness". Savonarola wanted to impress on the citizens of his Christian Republic that these "vanities" are indeed empty of all real value. And what better way to do that than to gather these items together, and set them on fire.

Thank the Gods, Savonarola's rule in Florence did not last long. By 1498 he was dead. In an interesting twist of fate, he was actually burned as a heretic, on order of the Pope, and in the same spot as his own infamous "Bonfire of the Vanities".

Marsilio Ficino wrote a brief essay, Contra Savonarolam, in which he attempted to explain how this madman had come to power, and, in particular, how he had come to enjoy the support of many Florentines. Ficino's answer was simple: Savonarola "had deceived so many otherwise clever and erudite Florentine men for nearly a full five years", but in fact the deception had been the work of "no mortal man, but the most crafty demon, and not a single demon, but a demonic horde." Ficino reiterated this: "Florentines, exceedingly unfortunate especially at this time, have been clandestinely besieged and seduced by a strong horde of demons under an angelic mask." [Quotes from Selected Writings of Girolama Savonarola, ed. Bebe, Borrelli, Passaro, p. 355]

Below are some nice collections of Carnival photos, mostly from Brazil, that others have very thoughtfully place online to hasten and abet our moral corruption:

Boston Globe's pics from 2010 Carnival
Anh Dep's photos from 2009

Colourlovers' 2008 pics
SeLuSaVa's photostream of 2007 Carnival pics

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Christians cannot vote for Geert Wilders"

Despite the fact that Geert Wilders is constantly sucking up to the Christians, Church leaders in the Netherlands are not reciprocating. Fully 75% of Dutch ministers and church workers not only oppose Wilders, but say bluntly that "a Christian cannot vote for" him or his party, according to a poll of a cross-section of Protestant denominations (as reported at the website).

Wilders' chumminess with "Judeo-Christians" is one of the primary ways in which he reveals that he is not a true libertarian. While absolutely defending complete freedom of religion, genuine libertarianism is uncompromisingly hostile to both Protestantism and Catholicism, because regardless of whether Jesus is on or off the cross, the Church is among the deadliest foes of individual liberty.

Wilders has obviously been studying American "Libertarians", like Bob Barr. Barr is a past champion of the War On Drugs and the Patriot Act, a man who believes that extramarital oral-sex during working hours is an act of treason, and who has recently had difficulty deciding whether or not the first amendment applies to non-monotheists. At the same time he has been trying to pass himself off as a standard bearer of libertarianism, or at least of the party that bears the name "Libertarian."

You see, like better sex, "liberty" is one of those things that everyone is for, or at least claims to be for. But principled libertarianism, or anything even remotely resembling it, has very little to do with modern party politics in the U.S. Not too long ago, though, there seemed to be some hope that this might not be the case in the Netherlands. Pim Fortuyn, for example, combined his criticism of Islam with a libertarianism that was far more consistent than Wilders'.

For example, Fortuyn supported such traditional Dutch values as legalization of recreational drugs and prostitution, and, more generally (and like a good libertarian) opposed any criminalization of "victimless crimes" or any other kind of government interference in how people choose to lead their lives. This was not only a matter of principle for Fortuyn, but it was also in line with his own libertine lifestyle which was often described as "flashy", or even "flamboyant."

Fortuyn was an openly gay man, and he will always be remembered for his command performance during a nationally televised debate with a radical Muslim cleric in 2002, just months before his assassination, when he baited the Imam by flaunting his homosexuality until the cleric finally exploded in a torrent of anti-gay abuse. Fortuyn then calmly turned to the camera and, addressing the viewers directly (he was also extremely telegenic), told them that this is the kind of Trojan horse of intolerance the Dutch are inviting into their society in the name of "multiculturalism."

[That gorgeous portrait of Pim Fortuyn is by the extraordinary Dutch artist Jean Thomassen.]

A Dutch woman among the throngs of mourners outside Fortuyn's house the day after his assassination proudly pointed to her "well exposed cleavage" and told a BBC reporter, "I want to be free to walk around like this. But they come up to me [Muslim immigrants] and swear at me or even spit at me."

But Wilders is no Fortuyn. In fact, Wilders sounds just like a southern Republican when he talks about "law and order" -- he even supports adoption of draconian sentencing "guidelines" like those that have already turned the US into a literal police-state. And naturally he wants to close the coffee-shops and wage "war on drugs."

But most troublesome of all is Wilders incessant invocation of "Judeo-Christianity," which he claims must be defended against Islam along with "Humanism." Of course the rights of Christians to worship freely are menaced by Islam -- just ask any Christian living anywhere in the world in a Muslim majority culture! But it is an obscentiy to give credit to Christianity for the relative freedom that is now enjoyed in the West. But that is exactly what Wilders does. It ridiculous for people who love individual freedom to make common cause with Christians against Islam: in an ideal world they could be allowed to fight each other until they either come to their senses or they have "extirpated" each other into oblivion.

Wilders routinely declares that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and individual liberty in general are (1) "European", (2) "Western", (3) "Judeo-Christian", (4) "our", and (5) "Humanist" values. But this is actually very reminiscent of that famed Sesame Street routine: "One of these things (is not like the others)." Europe, including Western Europe, has for nearly all of it's history been ruled by totalitarian states, usually Christian theocracies. "Humanism", on the other hand, was an intellectual movement of the Renaissance that can reasonably be seen as a precursor to modern liberal and/or libertarian conceptions of individualism and freedom.

But those who have fought for the rights of the individual over the last 500 years of modern, western history, have always been opposed by the Church -- both Catholic and Protestant alike. For example, the now famed Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom (authored by Thomas Jefferson and also strongly supported by his friend James Madison) was opposed by Anglicans, Congregationalists, and other Protestants in Virginia who nearly defeated it. And one of the leaders of that alliance of good Christians was none other than Patrick Henry!

The Christians of Virginia wanted to "establish" approved Protestant denominations who would be officially recognized, and subsidized, by the State! This was the status that Anglicans and Congregationalists had enjoyed, under British law, prior to the Revolution. (It might also be worth noting that Jefferson, Madison and Henry were all slave owners.)

And European totalitarianism is hardly a thing of the far distant past. All of continental Europe lay in the grip of Stalin and Hitler just eight decades ago. And European nations (other than the USSR) prior to WWII were still unabashedly Christian nations where non-Christians were treated little better than non-Muslims are treated today in Muslim countries, and where anti-Semitism and "scientific racism" were virulent, and unchecked, psychic cancers. And these same European "Great Powers", had also savagely conquered and subjugated nearly the entire inhabited world with their colonialism.

So let "us" not be too self-congratulatory about how free "we" and our "values" are. Freedom should be cherished, but so must the truth. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is no friend of mine at all.

We can learn something from those Dutch Protestant leaders who want nothing to do with Wilders. If freedom is really part of "our" values, then why don't those good Christians oppose the very real threat posed by Islam? Perhaps the idea of holding a religion responsible for a consistent track record, up to the present day, of violence and intolerance just makes them nervous?

Wilders is absolutely correct in his criticism of Islam, including his characterization of it as fascistic. And Wilders is not a far-rightist, let alone a neo-nazi or some kind of fascist himself. He strongly supports gay rights and women's rights. As was often said of Pim Fortuyn, it's accurate to say that Wilders is to the left of many members of the US Democratic Party! Not that that is saying much.

But Wilders, apparently out of a combination of his desire for political success and a lack of understanding of Western history, has decided that while Islam is an enemy of freedom, Christianity is on the side of freedom. For now I don't think that this makes Wilders himself an enemy of freedom, but it does make him an extremely unreliable friend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Secret knowledge, sacred knowledge

"Secrets are to religion what lingerie is to the body."
The verb secrete can denote either "to hide" or "to release." Both derive from the Latin root of se-cernere, to sift apart or to distinguish. Secrets are not buried far from the sacred, etymologically or otherwise, since the value of both lies in their qualities of being set apart, distinguished and defended from the everyday. To view religion in light of the secret entails, among other things, dividing the set-apart quality of the sacred into two distinct movements. The first movement is hiding, the act of classification that removes something or someone from obvious and banal evidence, the act of restricting its flow. The second movement is release, the rare and fragmentary revelation of a secret, its return to circulation. The return is not usually of the secret as substantive information. More typically, revelations are about the secret, words and acts hinting that it exists and is near and powerful in spite of its invisibility, "that which is not said even though it gets around" [quoted from Baudrillard's On Seduction] . . . .

To hide and to unveil, to contain and release -- this is the rhythm of secrets and also of the sacred. Without secrets, religion becomes unimaginable. For religion is in its cultural sense a technology of periodic human access to extraordinary powers, which generally remain concealed, and in its social sense a group of people who share such a technology and exercise it. If it is true, however, that all religions seek human relations with generally mysterious powers, which are revealed only in intermittent staccato bursts punctuating everyday experience, it is not true that all religions embrace secrecy and secretism as fundamental tools in their cultural repertoire and basic social form, nor do all historical contexts equally evoke secrecy as a defense against outside intrusion. Consider the tendency in most forms of Protestant Christianity, where there is no developed language of secrecy at all. God is transparent, revealed, even historically present in person and in text, "fully human, fully divine." One finds no developed ritualization of secrecy, little initiatory fencing off of those inside from everyman, and neither strong taboos nor sanctions guarding against disclosure. Despite the biblical injunction to "pray in secret" instead of for public glorification, in practice congregants are enjoined to make the religion as publicly conspicuous as possible, to "bear witness" in every word and deed so that as much of civic life as possible might be conformed to the religious mold. In theory, at least, there is no priviledged Protestant information, and all share equally the benefits and burdens of proximity to religious powers.

It is hard to imagine a religion less like this than Brazilian Candomble. Here the techniques of wresting power from the Gods (Orixas) are secret, foundational matters (fundamentos) guarded behind layers of graded initiations and strict hierarchies marking off those possessing the knowledge of fundamentos from those who do not. Here the reputation of knowing the deepest, most authentically African secrets is a hotly contested, fast-trading form of prestige, highly dependent on a consensus of pratitioners and networks of gossip along the channels of the informal "Yoruba post" (correio nago). To gain and keep the reputation of deep knowledge, priests and priestesses must be able to advertise it. They must master the art of flirtation, of accenting the contours of what remains concealed.

There is, then, an unspoken exchange between exhibition and voyeurism to secrecy. It is always socially constructed in a triangle composed of at least two confederates who are watched and envied by a desiring Third. Secrets are to religion what lingerie is to the body; they enhance what is imagined to be present. Even when the secret is known but unspoken, a "public secret", its allure is greater when veiled by shimmering textures. It is this capacity for dissimulation, the fact of a possible disjunction between the reputation and the reality, that renders secrecy a suspect force.
[Paul Christopher Johnson, Secret, Gossip and Gods: The Transformation of Brazilian Candomble, pp. 3-4]
Paul Christopher Johnson (on the Anthropology and History faculty at U Mich, and a 2008 Gugenheim Fellow) spent several years doing field research on the Afro-Caribbean religion called Candomble, which is primarily based in Brazil. Greg Downey (Historian, U Wisc-Mad) writing in the journal History of Religions, wrote of Johnson's Secret, Gossip and Gods that "A reader interested in learning about Candomble would be hard-pressed to find a more comprehensive yet deftly written introduction to the religion and to the intellectual debates that surround it ...."

During his field work, Johnson was frequently urged, by those he was studying, to be initiated into the religion so that he could see it from the inside, so to speak. One priestess in particular, whom Johnson refers to as "Mother B.", pushed Johnson to undergo the secret initiation ceremonies, despite Johnson's insistence that he did not believe in the Orixas: "While she found that utterly absurd, she found it equally trivial and always reassured me that it did not matter in the least. 'The question is whether you perform the rituals, not whether you believe in them.'"

But Johnson did eventually accept the repeated invitations and took initiation from Mother B., becoming one of the hundreds of filhos de Santo under her spiritual direction. Many of these "children of the Saints" live together in Mother B.'s terreiro, which Johnson describes as a "powerful, genuinely African place" in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.

Johnson (above) does an excellent job of very succinctly communicating the suffocating psychic limitations of the "Protestant" world view, which literally (if that is the right word) makes religion "inconceivable". This "inconceivability" of genuine experiential religion is what creates the proportionately intense longing for spiritual experience in the modern Western soul. As Socrates explains so eloquently in Plato's Symposium, one only desires what lies beyond one's reach.

Many people have incorrectly interpreted words like those of Mother B.'s (to the effect that it is only necessary to perform the rituals, not to believe in the Orixas) to indicate that "primitive" or "pagan" religions are orthopraxic as opposed to orthodoxic, that is, that in these supposedly un-philosophical, pre-civilizational religions there are no beliefs or ideas worth bothering with, just the mindless performance of rituals.

But you see, Mother B. was not really telling Johnson the truth, or at least not the whole truth. Instead, she was seducing him -- and not in some po-mo lit-crit baudrillardian sense, but in the old-fashioned, everyday meaning of the word. She was carefully choosing her words to overcome his resistance: so she "reassured" him that his concerns were baseless, his hesitation unwarranted, his fears "utterly absurd."

There can be no doubt that Mother B. genuinely believes in the Orixas, so there is no use trying to argue that her Candomble does not involve belief, i.e., that it is purely "orthopraxic." But then why does she insist that Johnson need not believe, and need only perform the rituals? Johnson actually explains this quite nicely further on in the book:
In their ideal form, which only moderately constrains actual practice, fundamentos are not to be known about, knowledge gained through books, but to be known through, learned through practice. It is the doing, not the knowing, of secrets which is the key. Only through long ritual apprenticeship, and especially through progressive initiations, can this ideal form of knowledge be gained. During these years it is not transmitted by the answering of questions, but rather by attentive observation and memory of the surroundings as one enters more restricted places and groups within the terreio and its hierarchy. Hence in the Candomble conception of learning there is an implicit geography. As an adept moves along the initiatory path, he arrives nearer to knowledge (saber) real fundamentos. Spatially he moves closer to the center of the terreio, into the most secretive rooms, where initiates heads are made, and where Orixas are dispatched from possessed bodies. In the metaphoric time-space of secrecy he moves back in time toward the ancestors and, ultimately, the creation of the world and the adventures of the Orixas; across the sea toward Africa; and deeper, down through the layers toward a more genuine, solid foundation. By mastering fundamentos, plural, he arrives ultimately at the possession of fundamento, "having foundation", in the singular.
[pp. 31-32]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fela Kuti and traditional African religion

Of the 2 billion Christians currently inhabiting planet earth, one quarter of them live in Africa. That was not the case just a century ago, when less than 5% of the African population was Christian, a statistic that had changed little for over a thousand years. At the end of the 19th century, about half of Africa's population still followed the old spiritual traditions of their ancestors, while most of the rest were descended from those who had been forcibly converted to Christianity in the 4th century only to be forcibly converted to Islam in the 8th century.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries brought European colonialism to Africa. Christian missionaries played a vital role in the subjugation of the Dark Continent, and the result was the greatest expansion of Christianity since the genocidal conquest of the Americas.

Fela Kuti was born into a well-off middle class Nigerian Christian family in 1938. According to his 1997 obituary in the Independent newspaper of London "Kuti's father and grandfather were both eminent Christian churchmen and liturgical composers, and his mother was a pioneering African feminist, the first female holder of a Nigerian driving licence." His family sent him to the UK to study, and he received a "classical" musical education at Trinity College in London.

While in London, Kuti and some college friends formed a band (he also became friends with Ginger Baker). After graduation, Fela and his band went to the United States to seek fame and fortune. They found neither. But the band managed to stay together and they finally found steady work in Los Angeles, where Kuti met and fell in love with Sandra Smith, a member of the Black Panther Party.

The British had done their best to instill a deep sense of self-loathing in their colonial subjects in places like Nigeria and India. The goal of the Brits was to turn their colonial subjects against themselves, to convince them that their own cultures were worthless, and that their only hope lay in becoming good Christians with proper, western-style educations. Kuti's family had apparently been text-book examples of the results.

Of course the white Christians of the West were superior to the idolatrous savages of Africa. What more proof could one want of this than the undeniable power and wealth of the British and the other nations of the West? But in the late 60's people were questioning many things that had previously been accepted unthinkingly.

In America, Kuti met Black people, like Sandra Smith, who were proud to be Black, rather than ashamed of their supposed inferiority. This not only influenced Kuti's political views, it energized his music in a way that still resonates powerfully nearly half a century later.

"It was incredible how my head was turned," Kuti told the New York Times in 1987. "Everything fell into place. For the first time, I saw the essence of blackism. It's crazy; in the States people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness, they don't realize they're the ones who've got it over there. We were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th street."

"I wasn't aware I was sending him," says a proudly reflective Sandra (Smith) Isadore. "I was being myself and so happy that I had met an urban African. I was trying to get to my roots in 1969. In my own mind, they (Africans) didn't have a struggle. It came to me as a surprise when I was in Nigeria [in 76] and Fela gave me this credit, cause I had not given the credit to myself."

[The quotes from Fela Kuti and Sandra Smith in the above two paragraphs are from Carter van Pelt's 1997 Africaman Original.]

At the same time, Kuti also experienced a genuine spiritual awakening that resulted in his rejecting the Christianity of his parents, and their parents, which had been adopted by them as part and parcel of their colonial subjugation.

On the subject of religion, here is one of Fela's son's, Femi Kuti, in a 2005 interview in Ntama, the "Journal of African Music and Popular Culture":
Idiots - my great grand father died looking for Jesus. My grandfather died. Jesus didn’t come. Well, my father said he was wise and that he is not going to wait until Jesus will come. And he too is dead. If I look at both of them I take my father being the wisest.
The following is from an interview with Seun Kuti, another of Fela's sons, done by Banning Eyre, Sean Barlow, and Matt Payne of The interview was done in December 2009, while Seun was in New York City to see the the Broadway play FELA!, based on his father's life and music:
S.B.: One more thing I am interested in… In the play, when Fela was going to seek guidance about big decisions, he talked to the Orishas, the Yoruba deities. I am curious about how that resonates with Nigerians in general. Are they both Christian or Muslim and traditional? There is a line Fela has in the play…” What did the British bring to Nigeria? Gonorrhea and Jesus Christ.” When I heard that, I said, “Well, there goes the Baptist audience for this show.” [Laughs]. You were just talking about how there are churches instead of farms in rural Nigeria today. So what is the dynamic between Christianity and traditional African religion in Nigeria now?

S.K.: Well, you know, the churches are so powerful in Nigeria. These men all have private jets. They live like monarchs. They are all kings as well, in the name of God. They have kicked out the Catholics. Not kicked them out. The Catholics are still there. But these Pentecostal pastors, they have stolen all of their customers. I don’t call them a congregation. They are all “customers,” because they are paying money to these men. God. You know, God can do everything: heal the sick and move mountains. But he just can’t make money. Incredible. This guy gets by. But the main thing about Africa is that most people are in poverty. When you are poor, you are easily influenced. Everybody that is poor only wants to come up. And most of these pastors are also painting pictures of, “Okay, I was poor before the Lord came into my life. I live my life righteously and look at me today.” The part of it that he is leaving out of the story is, “Look at me today. I am just here telling you all of this while you are putting your money in my pocket. And I am getting rich.” So, Africans are religious. Most people actually don’t relate to Fela in Africa because he is not a Christian or a Muslim. And he is telling them that this is wrong.

B.E.: That’s pretty radical.

S.K.: Yeah. And these men are easily able to turn that and use it as a way to say, “If he is a good man, how come he does not believe in God? In our white God?” So that is how most people pushed off his message in Africa. But at the same time, even more people realized that he is the genuine thing, and respect us for that.

B.E.: We have been doing some research on the Nollywood film industry recently. And I realized that a lot of those films are made by the Pentecostal churches and funded by them. They seem to put African traditional music and religion in a very bad light.

S.K.: In a bad light? Yeah, of course.

B.E.: That was kind of shocking to me, actually.

S.K.: You were able to investigate that, man? That is cool because I have been trying to tell people for years that. “Why do you think all of the movies in Nigeria are about churches?” Every time somebody will be suffering because somebody is doing juju, the bad African gods. Then Jesus Christ comes at the end and sets them free. It is crazy. Absolute bull***t. Ninety-eight percent of all the movies have that story line. Trust me.
Upon his return to Nigeria in 1970, Kuti established his own nightclub/commune in Lagos which he first called the Kalakuta Republic and later called The Shrine. In Kuti's mind this club was nothing short of the Headquarters of the Revolution. One observer described the club like this:
It was incredible. It was packed with people. It reminded me of the communal rock vibe in the sixties. It was more than just a musical show. It was genuinely an alternative scene. You had this open air club with a couple of levels to it. Hemp smoke was thick in the air -- flags from all the African nations ringing the courtyard. You had the stage with Africa 70, which was just a pretty awesome spectacle. It would just go on for hours, generally until dawn. There were raised platforms with young women gyrating, almost like go-go platforms. There was a real sense of rapport between Fela and the people in the audience. "Before the performance there would be a ceremony, a libation to the ancestors and sort of a consecration. That's why he called it The Shrine. He would come out with a cigarette or a spliff in his hand and stroll around and talk for twenty or thirty minutes about whatever was going on at that time -- the latest police attack or something the government was doing, anything that was on his mind. Then a small boy would run up with his saxophone, and he would play a solo and then someone else would solo. Then Fela would go over to the keyboards and play there for a while. Then he would take the mike and go into the main melody of the song with a lot of call and response. A typical song would be like forty-five minutes or an hour.
[Randall Grass describing The Shrine, quoted in Carter Van Pelt's Africaman Original]
The Nigerian government took Fela Kuti's revoluationary aspirations very seriously, and The Shrine was subjected to ever more violent police "raids". In 1977, just a year after Randall Grass' visit, described above, Kuti's mother was killed during one raid: she was thrown out of a second floor window by soldiers, and died soon thereafter from her injuries.

Kuti was devastated by the murder of his mother. But if anything it reinforced both his hatred of the government and his embrace of traditional spirituality.

Fela Kuti was Yoruba, and the spirituality that he in part rediscovered and in part invented was both pan-African and at the same time heavily influenced by traditional Yoruba religion. In his biography Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon, Michael Veal relates the following
As much as Fela embraced a Pan-African cultural vision, he tended to draw on icons of his own Yoruba culture for inspiration. In songs such as "Just Like That" and "Give Me Shit, I Give You Shit" he chanted the names of of the mythical Yoruba figures like Oranyan, Orompota, and Oranmiyan. In his own twist on Yoruba Orisha worship, he installed a photograph of his mother on the new Shrine's altar, giving her the name Afa Ojo (She Who Commands Rain) and pouring libations to her along with the other Pan-African heroes making up his pantheon. Fela's occasional lack of distinction betweent the local, national, and continental elements reflects the essentialist tendency in his postcolonial effort to forge a Pan-Africanist identity. The elevation of his mother to Osisha status reflects a systematic personalization and hybridization common in postcolonial African religion; he took this liberty although he was not a traditional priest or adherent in any sense of the term.

Another major theme to emerge in Fela's work during the early 1980's was his espousal of traditional forms of knowledge. In his view, one of the major crimes of African leadership was its reluctance to explore this area, remaining instead dependent on imposed Western forms of expression, thought, and technology. Fela did not explore this theme much in his songs, but it was central to the university lectures he gave between 1979 and 1981, in which, in addition to preaching Pan-Africanism, he extolled the values of naturalism, herbalism, and "African science." Essentially, he was advocating a form of science that operated in harmony with nature and drew on indigenous traditions to create a distinctly African technology. In Fela's view, Western culture was too dependent on a technology that degraded the environment and thus was unsustainable. An African variant could offer a more natural alternative. On the university lecture circuit or on stage in yabis sessions, Fela regularly criticized the government's suppression of research into herbal medicine and other aspects of traditional culture.
Fela Kuti was imprisoned for 20 months from 1985 to 1986. His musical output was less during the 1990's and he was obviously in increasingly ill health. He died in 1997, from HIV/AIDS. One million people attended his funeral at the old Shrine compound in Lagos.

Also see: Heart of Darkness:
Part One:
"By This Sign We Prosper"
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord's Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In Defense of Sharia Canings in Malaysia: 'The Objective Is Not To Inflict Physical Pain'

The following is a defense of the recent caning of three women in Malaysia under Sharia law. I believe that it requires absolutely no comment whatsoever. The author is a Malaysian lawyer.
(source: New Straights Times, February 22, 2010):

'The objective is not to inflict physical pain'


By Fakihah Azahari

"ISLAMPHOBIA" has once more reared its ugly head in Malaysia.
Following the recent caning sentences meted out against three women by the Federal Territory Syariah High Court for illicit sex, third parties have come to the defence of these women, with one group claiming that the caning constitutes a discriminatory act against women in general and another describing the act as "anachronistic and inconsistent with a compassionate society".

Despite the overwhelming support of these groups against the sentencing pronounced by the Syariah Court, the three women remained consistent and steadfast in their stance to undergo the sentences to recompense for their deeds.

An earlier sentence handed down for the offence of consumption of alcohol by the Pahang Syariah High Court against parttime model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno (but yet to be carried out) have also been heavily criticised. Like the three women in question, Kartika had decided not to appeal against the sentence and had expressly stated her willingness to submit to the sentences. All efforts by third party groups to demonise the caning sentences have been brought to a halt by the unwavering stand taken by the women to submit themselves to syariah law.

As the women narrated soon after experiencing the sentences, they were driven with an inner self desire to expiate themselves from their sins so as to find acceptance from God, their families and society at large. Relieved from their burden of guilt, they may move forward to chart a better future for themselves with a clear conscience.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Syariah High Court decisions, one issue is manifest. The decision of the women in question to submit themselves exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court shall have to be respected and efforts by third parties to dissuade them otherwise may be rather mischievous.

The due process of the Syariah Court system in Malaysia is well supported by the necessary infrastructure and cannot be compared to the Syariah Court system practiced in other Muslim countries.

Cases that occur in other Muslim countries that portrayed a flawed system of laws may have influenced the image of our Syariah Court system negatively. One example is the case of Amina Lawal, a woman accused of and convicted by the Nigerian Islamic Court for the crime of adultery in 2002. The conviction was seriously tainted by a flawed due process of law that prompted Amina to seek assistance from international organisations. The Nigerian Court of Appeal later found conclusive proof of the miscarriages of justice and Amina won her appeal. Our syariah law system, on the other hand, has displayed a proper and fair due process of law to the extent that the women convicted by the Syariah High Court, did not speak against the sentences or exercise their rights to an appeal, although they were at liberty to do so.

The enforcement of caning under the Syariah Court system is distinguishable from the mode of caning enforced in the civil court system which is known to be painful and severe; in that its objective is not to inflict physical pain but to produce an awareness of the consequences of one's wrongdoings and a solemn desire to right things. The women attested that they felt no physical pain and this fact was witnessed by the various parties who were present at the sentencing.

The jurisdiction and powers of the Malaysian Syariah Courts to deal and dispense with syariah matters are deeply entrenched in the Malaysian Constitution. It is a system of laws that exists side by side with the civil system comprising of legal infrastructure of equal standing as present in the civil court system. Once we overcome our 'Islamphobia', perhaps we may be able to understand the philosophy and workings of syariah laws and view syariah issues in an objective and unbiased manner.

The writer is attached to the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Pagan Renaissance

"A once wonderful totality of being."
In 1853, Jacob Burckhardt published The Age of Constantine the Great, in which he wrote:
Anyone who has encountered classical antiquity, if only in its twilight, feels that with beauty and freedom there departed also the genuine antique life, the better part of the national genius, and that the rhetorizing orthodoxy which was left to the Greek world can only be regarded as a lifeless precipitate of a once wonderful totality of being.
[p. 151]
In that book Burckhardt openly displayed his sympathy for ancient Paganism, and his preference for it over Christianity. He even went so far as to praise the persecutor Diocletian, while portraying Constantine in a way that continues to offend Christians to this day.

But just as Burckhardt deplored the eclipse of classical Paganism with the rise of Christianity in the 4th century in his biography of Constantine, in his next major work, The Civilization of the Renaissance, he celebrated the revival of Paganism at the expense of Christianity a thousand years later. The following excerpt is taken from "Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance", which is Chapter 3 of Part VI of that book:

These modern men, the representatives of the culture of [Renaissance] Italy, were born with the same religious instincts as other mediaeval Europeans. But their powerful individuality made them in religion, as in other matters, altogether subjective, and the intense charm which the discovery of the inner and outer universe exercised upon them rendered them markedly worldly. In the rest of Europe religion remained, till a much later period. something given from without, and in practical life egotism and sensuality alternated with devotion and repentance. The latter had no spiritual competitors) as in Italy, or only to a far smaller extent.

Further, the close and frequent relations of Italy with Byzantium and the Mohammedan peoples had produced a dispassionate tolerance which weakened the ethnographical conception of a privileged Christendom. And when classical antiquity with its men and institutions became an ideal of life, as well as the greatest of historical memories, ancient speculation and skepticism obtained in many cases a complete mastery over the minds of Italians. Since, again, the Italians were the first modern people of Europe who gave themselves boldly to speculations on freedom and necessity, and since they did so under violent and lawless political circumstances, in which evil seemed often to win a splendid and lasting victory, their belief in God began to waver, and their view of the government of the world became fatalistic. And when their passionate natures refused to rest in the sense of uncertainty, they made a shift to help themselves out with ancient, Oriental, or medieval superstition. They took to astrology and magic.

Finally, these intellectual giants, these representatives of the Renaissance, show, in respect to religion, a quality which is common in youthful natures. Distinguishing keenly between good and evil, they yet are conscious of no sin. Every disturbance of their inward harmony they feel themselves able to make good out of the plastic resources of their own nature, and therefore they feel no repentance. The need of salvation thus becomes felt more and more dimly, while the ambitions and the intellectual activity of the present either shut out altogether every thought of a world to come, or else caused it to assume a poetic instead of a dogmatic form . . . .

The fourteenth century was chiefly stimulated by the writings of Cicero, who, though in fact an eclectic, yet, by his habit of setting forth the opinions of different schools, without coming to a decision between them, exercised the influence of a skeptic. Next in importance came Seneca, and the few works of Aristotle which had been translated into Latin. The immediate fruit of these studies was the capacity to reflect on great subjects, if not in direct opposition to the authority of the Church, at all events independently of it.

In the course of the fifteenth century the works of antiquity were discovered and diffused with extraordinary rapidity. All the writings of the Greek philosophers which we ourselves possess were now, at least in the form of Latin translations, in everybody's hands. It is a curious fact that some of the most zealous apostles of this new culture were men of the strictest piety, or even ascetics. Fra Ambrogio Camaldolese, as a spiritual dignitary chiefly occupied with ecclesiastical affairs, and as a literary man with the translation of the Greek Fathers of the Church, could not repress the humanistic impulse, and at the request of Cosimo de' Medici, undertook to translate Diogenes Laertius into Latin. His contemporaries, Niccolo Niccoli, Giannozzo Manetti, Donato Acciaiuoli, and Pope Nicholas V, united to a many-sided humanism profound biblical scholarship and deep piety. In Vittorino da Feltre the same temper has been already noticed. The same Maffeo Vegio, who added a thirteenth book to the Aeneid, had an enthusiasm for the memory of St. Augustine and his mother, Monica, which cannot have been without a deeper influence upon him. The result of all these tendencies was that the Platonic Academy at Florence deliberately chose for its object the reconciliation of the spirit of antiquity with that of Christianity. It was a remarkable oasis in the humanism of the period.

This humanism was in fact Pagan, and became more and more so as its sphere widened in the fifteenth century. Its representatives, whom we have already described as the advance guard of an unbridled individualism, display as a rule such a character that even their religion, which is sometimes professed very definitely, becomes a matter of indifference to us. They easily got the name of atheists, if they showed themselves indifferent to religion and spoke freely against the Church; but not one of them ever professed, or dared to profess, a formal, philosophical atheism. If they sought for any leading principle, it must have been a kind of superficial rationalism--a careless inference from the many and contradictory opinions of antiquity with which they busied themselves, and from the discredit into which the Church and her doctrines had fallen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Two religions will not remain in the land of the Arabs."

This post consists of three excerpts from the book Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition by Yohanan Friedmann. The book is written in the dispassionate style of a careful scholar whose arguments are well reasoned and thoroughly documented. And yet the picture of Islam that emerges is absolutely devastating.

I have also provided some links, but I have not bothered to thoroughly check up on the veracity of most of what is found in these, so caveat surfor.
first excerpt:
"Early Muslim compendia of hadith include a number of traditions according to which the Prophet decided to expel all non-Muslims from the Arabian peninsula. In some compendia we find traditions about the expulsion of the polytheists, and separate utterances about the expulsion of the Jews and the Christians. The traditions are repeated in chapters dealing with various issues of religious law and appear in variant versions. Most of them deal with the expulsion of the Jews and the Christians from the areas of Medina, Khabyar and Najran. The expulsion from Medina is said to have been carried out by the Prophet; he intended to expel the Jews of Khabyar as well, but allowed them to remain there on the condition that they continue to work the land and yield half of the agricultural produce to the Muslims. Eventually, Umar b. al-Khattab carried out the Prophet's wish and expelled the Jews of Khaybar to Jericho and Tayma. Once this development took place, the clauses in 'ahd al-umma ('Constitution of Medina') bestowing legitimacy on the existence of the Jewish faith in Medina became problematic and had to undergo substantial reinterpretation far removed from their primary meaning."
[p. 90]
second excerpt:
"According to a tradition reported by Malik b. Anas, the last thing the Prophet said before his death was: 'May God fight the Jews and the Christians! They transformed the tombs of their prophets into mosques. Two religions will not remain in the land of the Arabs.' The last sentence was also mentioned by 'Umar when he decided to expel the Jews from Khaybar.

The tradition about the expulsion of the Jews from Medina, reported by Bukhari, seems to imply that the reason for the Prophet's decision was his desire to take over their landed property. The traditions concerning the aftermath of the Banu Qurayza massacre also contain descriptions of distribution of land to the muhajirun. In most traditions of legal import, however, the reason given for the expulsion is the intention to bring about religious uniformity in the Arabian peninsula: the Prophet is reported to have said that no two religions would coexist there (la yajtami'u dinani fi jazirat al-'arab). The reference to the Jews in this context is of particular significance, most Jews are monotheists, and if they are ordered to leave, the expulsion of other infidels follows as a matter of course.

"According to another tradition, the decision to expel the Jews and the Christians was the last decision taken by the Prophet before his death; the implication of this seems to be that this decision remains valid forever, becaues nobody has the authority to revoke the Prophet's injunctions after his death . . . .

"The traditions concerning the expulsion of non-Muslims do not all use the same terms to define the area which they must abandon. Sometimes only Medina is mentioned; but in most cases the terms used are ard al-'Arab, ard al-Hijaz, jazirat al-'Arab, mulk al-'Arab, Khaybar and Wadi al-Qura. Geographically speaking, these terms are not quite clear; some traditionists deem it therefore necessary to specify the boundaries of the area affected by the explusion order. There are also separate traditions about the expulsion of Christians from Najran. Regarding the Zoroastrians of 'Uman, there is a tradition according to which the conquering Muslims gave them the choice to embracing Islam or going into exile. The Zoroastrians chose to leave and abandoned their possessions, which were transformed into state lands (sawafi). On the other hand, the Yemen was not included in the areas that had to be evacuated by the non-Muslims.

"The need for religious uniformity is discussed not only in relation to the Arabian peninsula. The basis for these discussions are prophetic traditions in which the need for religious uniformity is formulated in general terms and is not geographically restricted. In his Sharh al-siyar al-kabir, the Hanafi scholar al-Sarakhsi (d. 1090) discusses the question whether it is permissible for the People of the Book to live in Muslim cities. He replies in the affirmative, because shared residence will, in his opinion, enable the People of the Book to see the beauty of Islam. He mentions, however, the view of al-Halwa'i, who maintains that this rule applies only if non-Muslims are few and their residence will not adversely affect Muslim rituals; if they are numerous, and their residence may have such an adverse effect, they are prevented from living in teh city and are required to live in an area which is not populated by Muslims. Seth Ward has drawn attention to the view of al-Tabari, according to whom 'the legal standing of all Islamic lands is the same as that of the Arabian peninsula.'"
[pp. 91-93]
third excerpt:
"Qur'an 8:39 enjoins the Muslims to 'fight ... till there is no fitna and the religion is God's entirely.' The crucial word fitna is difficult and the commentators most usually explain it as 'infidelity' or 'polytheism' (kufir, shirk). It seems, however, that in this verse fitna conveys primarily the idea of the unbelievers trying to induce the Muslims to abandon their religion. This fits the primary meaning of fatana and its usage in some early documents attributed to the Prophet. It is also compatible with the historical context of early Islam, when the few Muslims were under constant pressure of their powerful adversaries to revert to their former faith. If our understanding is correct, the verse enjoins the Muslims to fight the infidels and weaken them to such an extent that they would no longer be capable of promoting apostasy among the Muslims.

"The Qur'anic commentators go far beyond this meaning of the concept. Theough it is not easy to find an etymological justification for this, the prevalent understanding of fitna in exegesis is polytheism (shirk) or infidelity (kufr). Al-Tabari quotes and exegetical tradition according to which the verse command the Muslims to create a situation in which 'no infidelity will coexist with our religion' (la yakuna ma'a dinikum kuf). He also stresses that even if the polytheists stop fighting, the Muslims must fight them until they embrace Islam . . . .

"The desire to achieve religious uniformity is expressed also in the hadith. Perhaps the most explicit tradition in which Islam enunciated this purpose reads:
I was commanded to fight the people until they say: There is no god except Allah.' Once they have said this, they have rendered their lives and possessions inviolable by me, except on the ground of the (unfulfilled) duties incumbent on them; it will be up to Allah to call them to account.
"This tradtion has been preserved in several versions which are essential for our understanding of its significance. The shortest and probably earliest version, which is quoted above, includes the minimal requirement for conversion: the affirmation of God's oneness. [M. J.] Kister has shown that soon afterward the second shahada, attesting to the prophethood of Muhammad, and the obligation to pray and pay the zakat was added. The expanded version reads:
I was commanded to fight the people until they say: 'There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah; and until they perform the prayer and pay the poor tax.' If they do this, they have thereby rendered their lives adn possessions inviolable to me . . . .
"This version reflects the policy ascribed to Abu Bakr at the time of the ridda wars: he demanded that the rebellious tribes conform not only in the purely religious sense, but also pay their share in financing the nascent Muslim state."
[pp. 97-99]

Monday, February 15, 2010

Global Warming 'Skepticism': Sometimes there really is no 'there' there.

One assumes that if the so-called global warming "skeptics" could do better, they would. Or perhaps they think they don't have to? I mean, can it really be any harder to convince people that global warming isn't real than it was to convince them that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were?

I am referring (for now, there will be more to come) to a recent article that appeared on Sunday (Feb. 14, 2010) in the Rupert Murdoch owned and operated Times Online (UK), under the title World may not be warming, say scientists. The amount of attention that this article has garnered is indicated by the fact that it has been featured at both the RealClearPolitics and at the WitchesVoice websites!

The obvious intent of the article is to convince the reader that the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is facing "a new challenge" in the form of scientists who previously supported AGW but who are now "casting doubt" on the "claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably because of human pollution."

In fact, the article in question names a grand total of six "scientists". One of them turns out to not be a scientist at all. Two of them are economists with no expertise in climate science. The remaining three (all of the actual climate scientists named in the article!) all support and have always supported the scientific consensus behind AGW.

And not one of the six people named in the article has changed his or her position on the question of anthropogenic global warming!

Here are the named "sources" in the article, in the order that they appear:

John Christy
Atmospheric scientist.
Quote (not given in article): "It is scientifically inconceivable that after changing forests into cities, turning millions of acres into irrigated farmland, putting massive quantities of soot and dust into the air, and putting extra greenhouse gases into the air, that the natural course of climate has not changed in some way."
No change in position

Ross McKitrick
Right-wing economist (not a climate scientist).
Has always opposed the idea of global warming.
No change in position.

Anthony Watts
TV "weatherman", NOT an actual scientist of any sort.
Long time global warming skeptic.
No change in position.

Terence (Terry) Mills
Another economist, not a climate scientist. Has played no major role (that is, has not taken a public position) in climate debate until recently.
No change in position.

Kevin Trenberth
Supports theory of anthropogenic global warming.
No change in position.

Vicky Pope
Supports theory of anthropogenic global warming.
No change in position.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why Muslims and Christians Love Secularism ... In India

Secularism in India is a Euphemism for Hindu-baiting
Secularism in the West had risen as a revolt against the closed creed of Christianity and had meant, for more than 150 years, a freeing of the State from the clutches of the Church. In the Indian context it should have meant a revolt against the closed creed of Islam as well, and keeping the state aloof from the influence of mullahs. [Nehru], however, turned Secularism in India into a poisonous slogan for the use of a Muslim-Communist-Christian combine which he had forged in order to keep the national majority down. L.K. Advani had hit the nail on the head when in a moment of clarity and courage during the Ayodhya Movement (1989) he had said that. Secularism in India was a euphemism for Hindu-baiting.
Below is Sita Ram Goel's preface to the 1998 book Freedom of Expression, which he compiled and edited for Voice of India publishers. This is just a small sample of the great treasure of material available at the Voice of Dharma website! The footnotes are active links that will take you directly to the appropriate reference (at Voice of Dharma).

Those who have been following the Geert Wilders trial might want to skip down to section III, where Goel recounts his own experiences dealing with the police, courts, and government officials in India as a result of his writings on Islam. But then you'll want to come back and read the whole thing! Or just go to the link provided above and read the entire book at Voice of Dharma.

The concept of Secularism as known to the modern West is dreaded, derided and denounced in the strongest terms by the foundational doctrines of Christianity and Islam. Both of these doctrines prescribe Theocracy under which the State serves as the secular arm of the Church or the Ummah, and society is regimented by the Sacred Canon or the Shariat.

This fact is more than evident if we survey the history of Christianity till the French Revolution, and the practice which prevails in all Islamic states till today. It is a different matter that Christianity has reconciled itself to Secularism because of its steep decline in its traditional homelands - Europe and the Americas. The doctrine remains unchanged and Christianity will restore Theocracy if it were to acquire power again. Islam has yet to evince any sign of similar reconciliation with Secularism either in doctrine or in practice. In fact, the recent trend in most Islamic countries has been to revert to Theocracy in its pristine form, that is, as it existed under the four "rightly guided caliphs".

It is, therefore, intriguing that the most fanatical and fundamentalist adherents of Christianity and Islam in India - Christian missionaries and Muslim mullahs - cry themselves hoarse in defence of Indian Secularism, the same way as the votaries of Communist totalitarianism coming out vociferously in defence of Democracy. The puzzle needs unravelling unless one is satisfied with the mere sound of the word 'secularism', and at the same time nails pluralistic Hinduism as a closed monotheism like Islam and Christianity as India-watchers in the West and their lickspittles in this country have been doing for a long time.

It is significant that the word 'secularism' occurs neither in the writings and speeches of Pandit Nehru nor in the vocabulary of its other present-day votaries if we consult the record from the pre-independence period. Even in the Constitution of India as enacted in January 1950 the word does not find a place either in the Preamble or anywhere else; it was inserted there arbitrarily by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency she imposed on the Country during 1975-76. But ever since Pandit Nehru rose to supreme power in the Indian National Congress and the country at large after the death of Sardar Patel in December 1950, we find this word becoming increasingly frequent in his writings and speeches and fashionable in the parlance of parties that have otherwise nothing in common except their hatred of Hindus and Hinduism. All sorts of Hindu-baiters have come to describe themselves as 'secularists' 'Secular forces' and 'Secular front' while distancing themselves from what they denounce as 'Hindu communalism'. It can be concluded quite safely that although all 'secularists' may not be scoundrels, all scoundrels in India are 'secularists'.

The puzzle stands solved when we learn from the post-independence writings and speeches of Pandit Nehru, the father of Indian Secularism, that he had borrowed from the modem West only the word and not its meaning in Western political parlance. In fact, he himself stated what he was doing in a letter he wrote to C.D. Deshmukh on 22 June 1952. "Nothing amazes me so much," he said, "as the perversion of well-known words and phrases in political and other controversies today. I suppose every demagogue does it."1 He was either being blatantly dishonest or was blissfully unaware that he had proved himself to be a despicable demagogue when he picked up a well-known word from the Western political parlance and perverted it to mean the opposite of what it meant over there. Secularism in the West had risen as a revolt against the closed creed of Christianity and had meant, for more than 150 years, a freeing of the State from the clutches of the Church. In the Indian context it should have meant a revolt against the closed creed of Islam as well, and keeping the state aloof from the influence of mullahs. He, however, turned Secularism in India into a poisonous slogan for the use of a Muslim-Communist-Christian combine which he had forged in order to keep the national majority down.2 L.K. Advani had hit the nail on the head when in a moment of clarity and courage during the Ayodhya Movement (1989) he had said that. Secularism in India was a euphemism for Hindu-baiting.

That was the intention when Pandit Nehru launched his 'Secularism' around 1951-52. The intention materialized into a grim reality in the next few years. Meanwhile, he permitted his courtiers, particularly the Gandhians, to provide the window-dresssing to this formidable fraud. Secularism in India, they said, cannot mean the irrelevance of religion in mundane affairs as it meant in the modern West. India being a religious - infact, a multi-religious - society, they asserted, religion was very much relevant to the lives of the Indian people. So Secularism had to acquire a new meaning in the Indian context. Instead of meaning irrelevance of religion, they proclaimed, it should mean the relevance of all religions prevailing in this country - Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. In short, they defined Indian Secularism as sarva-dharma-samabhâva - equal respect for all religions - as expounded by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

But Gandhi's sarva-dharma-samabhâva did not stop at equal respect for all religions; it went much further and stood for equal validity of all religions. The Mahatma had spared no ink or breath to inculcate the belief that all religions embody the same truths, pursue the same goal, and lead to the same spiritual fulfilment. This second dimension of sarva-dharma-samabhâva was brought forward very forcefully when the big-wigs of the Indian establishment - the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers - started broadcasting their messages to the nation on the birthdays of Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Prophet Muhammed, Jesus Christ, Guru Nanak, Mahavir and Buddha. According these worthies, all these founders of 'great religions' blazed the same path to salvation, and stood squarely and in the same measure for human brotherhood, social justice, economic equality, world peace, self-sacrifice, compassion - in fact, for every spiritual virtue and sociopolitical value which happened to be in fashion at the time they brushed up their verbiage. The grandiose rhetoric has remained unabated till today.

These worthies may sound like a bunch of buffoons to those who have studied various religions from their primary sources, and who know for sure that there is nothing in common between monotheistic dogmas (blind beliefs) like Christianity and Islam on the one hand, and pluralistic spiritual traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism3 on the other. Ascribing human brotherhood, social justice, world peace, self-sacrifice and compassion to Christianity and Islam is tantamount to proclaiming that the wolf is a votary of vegetarianism. But that makes no difference to the worthies who never suspect that what they are mouthing does not amount to equal respect but equal ignorance of all religions! They frown upon those who doubt their wisdom and accuse the latter of being 'chauvinists' out to wreck 'India's age-old communal amity'. Sarva-dharma-sambhâva has thus become another religious dogma (blind belief) sponsored by the Indian State.

It would have been a blessing indeed if the Indian State had stopped at proclaiming the dogma and left it to the citizens to believe in it or not. But what has happened is that the Indian State actively patronizes the exercise aimed at making all religions mean the same things, and persecutes those who defy the exercise. A whole army of 'secularist' scribes in the media and the academia has been employed and paid handsomely for whitewashing Islam and Christianity so that whatever is bigoted in the scriptures and blood-soaked histories of these creeds, is carefully exorcised. On the other hand, whatever is liberal and large-hearted, humane and civilized in the pluralistic spirituality of India is remorseless pruned to the prescribed and proper size. In the process, Christianity has been made to mean only the Sermon on the Mount, and Islam equated with two Quranic sentences tom out of context - "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion" and "There is no compulsion in religion."4 At the same time Hindu Dharma has been reduced to Brahmanical tyranny, caste oppression, satee, cowdung-eating, untouchability, bride-burning etc., and Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism to revolts against 'all these evils'.

Again, it would have been same solace if Muslims, Christians, neo-Sikhs, neo-Buddhists and neo-Jains had subscribed to sarva-dharma-samabhâva and shown respect for Hinduism. But what happened was just the opposite. While Hindus were harangued, even forced, to swear by and practise sarva-dharma-samabhâva vis-à-vis Islam, Christianity, neo-Sikhism, neo-Buddhism, and neo-Jainism, followers of the latter creeds were left free not only to propagate their pet dogmas but also to attack Hinduism and proselytize Hindus. What emerged as a result was a united front of Muslims, Christians, neo-Sikhs, neo-Buddhists and neo-Jains (the so-called minorities) which stood arrayed against Hindus, and insisted vehemently that Hindus accept the 'secularist' version of Hinduism thus forcing Hindus to become apologetic and remain on the defensive always.

In short, the sarva-dharma-samabhâva version of Indian Secularism turned out to be the same as the Nehruvian version. According to this version, Hindus were always in the wrong no matter who committed aggression in the first instance and who was the real culprit for creating communal tension at any time. History of the Freedom Movement (1885-1947) was tailored in order to put Hindus in their proper place, that is, as those who brought about the 'tragedy of Partition'. It did not mean a fig to the Indian 'secularists' that Hindus by and large as well as their organizations (Hindu Mahasabha, Arya Samaj, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) had resisted tooth and nail the Muslim League demand for Pakistan; that 97% Muslims of India ruled by the British had opted for Partition in 1946; that the Communist Party of India had marshalled ideological and statistical arguments in support of the Muslim League case; that Socialists had pounced upon Hindus who criticized Muslims and/or Islam; that it was the Indian National Congress which had accepted the Mountbatten Plan of Partition in June 1946; and that Mahatma Gandhi had thrown up his hands in utter helplessness at the last moment after having continued to assure the Hindus of Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Bengal that "vivisection of the Motherland could take place only on his dead body"! The exercise used the Nazi logic of accusing the sheep of provoking the wolf.

The most unkindest cut of all, however, came from the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, (BJS), the new Hindu party floated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1951. While it continued to proclaim that it stood for a united India (Akhanda Bharat), it did not take long to start mouthing the slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhâva. The only saving feature in this sorry situation was that the BJS did not incorporate the slogan in its Constitution finalized in 1973, nor forced its members to subscribe to it. That was left for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched in 1980. This new avatar of the BJS incorporated the slogan as Article IV5 in its Constitution adopted in 1992, and made it obligatory for its members to take a pledge that they would abide by it. This abject surrender to Secularism was camouflaged by adding the word 'positive' to an essentially negative concept. The party was out to hoodwink Hindus who were led to believe that it stood for Hindu causes. It ended by deceiving itself as became more than obvious in the next few years. In any case, the 'secularist' camp viewed with contempt its secularist pretensions, and continued to denounce it as a party of 'Hindu communalists, chauvinists, Fascists and Nazis'. The outcome has been what it was bound to be. The BJP has been shying away from defending Hindus or Hinduism in order to earn certificates from the 'Secularist front'. Or, if it has espoused a Hindu cause once in a while, as in the case of the Ramajanmabhumi Movement, it has done so purely for its own private purpose of mobilizing Hindu votes and then run away from the battle when it came to the crux, leaving Hindu society at large to suffer the slings and arrows of an outraged 'secularist' mob.

The court cases and other articles in Section I of this book bear ample testimony that the Indian State has become a Theocracy for all practical purposes with sarva-dharma-samabhâva serving as its official dogma. The twist given by Pandit Nehru and all other parties to the word 'secularism', had turned Indian Secularism into a shield for protecting creeds and cults hostile to Hindus, and also into a sword for wounding and maiming Hinduism which has always stood for an open society and religious pluralism. And as the Indian State has been dominated by Communists, Socialists and Leftists of all hues, I have chosen to label Indian Theocracy as Secular. For Leftists in general have always opposed Theocracy in Muslim and Christian countries. It is only in India that they have become its unrivalled champions.

Muslims in India have taken full advantage of Indian Theocracy to prevent critical examination of Islam, its prophet, its scriptures, its history, its heroes, and its ethical and legal prescriptions. They have staged street riots, murdered innocent Hindus and policemen, and destroyed public and private property wherever the call has gone forth from their leaders that Islam has been insulted. Thereby they have succeeded in getting books, articles and films banned by invoking Sections 153 and 295 of the Indian Penal Code and similar provisions of the Indian Customs Act. At the same time, they have honeycombed the whole country with maktabs and madrasahs which train an army of missionaries and militants, and provide shelter to terrorists sent by Pakistan, Bangladesh and other Islamic countries. They have formed themselves into a vote bank which all political parties, particularly the BJP, go out of their way to cultivate and woo. The BJP has coined a clever slogan - "justice for all, appeasement of none" - in order to cover up its courting of Muslims and hoodwink Hindus. But if you examine the record of State Governments of the BJP, it becomes more than clear that it has gone out of its way towards appeasement of Muslims. It is only the Muslims who have refused to oblige 'the party of Hindu fascists and Nazis'.

It is true that Christians in India do not behave like Muslims except once in a while, and one is free to criticize Christian dogmas and institutions, even its totem - Jesus Christ - if one chooses to do so, which is rare because of the inhibitions fostered by sarva-dharma-samabhâva. But Christian leaders do shout from the housetops that the norms of Indian Secularism are being violated. Christianity also enjoys an advantage over Islam in this context. In spite of all the blah blah about sarva-dharma-samabhâva, there are very few Hindus who really respect Islam or its prophet. The record of Islamic crimes committed over the centuries and continued at present, has sunk too deep into the psyche of Hindus at large to encourage them to honour Islam or its scriptures or its heroes. On the other hand, due to the accidents of history, Christianity arrived too late in this country to create a similar record except for a brief period and over a small area - under the Portuguese and the French. The British who won the race for consolidating a European empire in this country, were interested more in preserving their empire then making Jesus Christ preside over it. They did not permit Christian missionaries to use their patent methods, particularly after the Mutiny of 1857. In any case, Hindus could always laugh at the Christian missionaries foaming at the mouth and using foul language for all that Hindus cherish. Add to that the Hindu infatuation for Jesus Christ starting with Raja Ram Mohun Roy and coming down to Mahatma Gandhi and the Ramakrishna Mission. There has always been an abundance of Hindu elite and gurus, here and abroad, selling Jesus as a spiritual giant. For a large number of Hindus educated in Christian schools and colleges, Christianity means 'humanitarian services' which Hindus themselves have 'never undertaken'. Small wonder that the Christian establishment in India has remained confident that it has only to invoke Jesus and Mother Teresa to silence the rare Hindu voice of dissent. In any case, Hindu scholars who have studied Christianity in depth and detail are too few and far between to bother the giant Christian apparatus funded by fabulous sums from abroad. The modem West may not have any use for Christianity, but it continues to maintain it for export to Third World countries like the rest of its junk. And the West never fails to rush to the defence of the Christian establishment in India whenever the latter protests that it is being molested by 'Hindus fundamentalists'.


Hindu intelligentsia by and large has been led to believe by the votaries of sarva-dharma-samabhâva that this is an ancient Hindu doctrine accepted and practised by all Hindu schools of thought, always and everywhere. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The fact is that we do not find this phrase - sarva-dharma-samabhâva - in any Hindu shâstra down to our own days. It was Mahatma Gandhi who coined the phrase and prescribed it for all Hindus. In the earlier history of Hinduism, we do come across a few sarva-darshan-saMgraha - compendium of all schools of thought. But what we find in them is not that all schools say the same things or that all schools are equally valid, but only expositions of the various points of view together with a critique of them by the compiler concerned. What is more telling is the hoary Hindu history of shâstrârtha (debate) going back to the Vedas. In subsequent ages, we come across lively debates among the main schools of Sanâtana Dharma - six systems of philosophy on which Buddhism, Jainism, Vedanta, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Vaishnavism are based. Each of these schools has bequeathed to posterity a vast literature defending its own position and demolishing those of all others. Then there is a lot of debate among the sects within each school, following the same pattern. The language of these debates is not always refined. Quite often, it is harsh, and occasionally downright derisive. And shâstrârtha was not confined to the written word. It was held in royal courts as well as in assemblies of the learned. The only thing we miss in these debates is going beyond words, written or spoken, and calling for breaking of heads. In the long history of shâstrârtha we do not come across a single instance of any school or sect calling for suppression of any other school or sect, or mobilizing its adherents to stage street riots in its support and against another - a method brought to India by Islam at its very advent.

But Islam was never accepted as a dharma by mainstream Hinduism. It was only in the fourteenth century of the Christian era that we meet the so-called Nirguna school of bhakti or santamata, founded by Kabir, which started treating Islam as a way of worship and even equating it with Hindu Dharma - Rama with Rahim, Veda with Kateb (Kitâb, the Book or Quran) Kashi with Ka'ba, Pandit with Mullah, Temple Bells with Azan, and so on. Quite a bit of this equating was done for ridiculing the rituals of both Islam and Hinduism, and proclaiming that the spiritual secret was known only to the sadguru, the True Teacher like Kabir. For the rest, the bulk of the santamata literature is Vaishnavite derived from the Puranas, particularly the Bhâgavata-purâNa. The only variation is the mention of a few sufis like Mansur Al-Hallaj, Abu Yazid (Bayazid) and Adham Sultan, who were hardly sufis like those we meet in the latter day silsilas (orders). It is significant that none of the sufis from the silsilas finds place in this literature.

The santamata gave birth to many sadgurus and sprouted into many off-shoots in North India. But none of its offshoots ever became known in South India. In North India, too, it remained confined to a few low-caste communities amongst whom the Puranic lore had been popular long before santamata appeared on the scene. The main-stream Bhakti Movement which was wide-spread among Hindus including those belonging to most of the lower castes, always looked down upon the santamata, even when the latter became increasingly more and more Hindu except for its incongruent streaks of monotheism, prophetism (guruvâda) and anti-Brahminism. It is significant that no adherent of any school of Santamata is known to have converted to Islam. What we know is that some converts to Islam joined its ranks, notably Dadu and Sadhna.

So the doctrine of sarva-dharma-samabhâva cannot be attributed to the santamata. What we find in santamata is not equal respect for all religions but equal contempt for all rituals and institutions, whether Hindu or Islamic.

It is only when we move to modem times that we find the first traces of sarva-dharma-samabhâva surfacing in India in the form of the Brahmo Samaj. Raja Ram Mohun Roy, the founder of this cult, was a votary of Islamic monotheism, and later on became infatuated with Jesus Christ. He confused the monism of the Upanishads with the monotheism of Biblical creeds, and gave birth to a lot of confusion. But, by and large, he stayed a Hindu who had some very hard words to say about the doings of Islam and Christian missionaries in India. Even Keshub Chunder Sen cannot be called a votary of sarva-dharma-samabhâva, strictly speaking. The man fancied himself as the prophet of a New Dispensation (Nababidhâna) which had not only equated all religions but also gone beyond them. He ended by becoming a bag of nauseating nonsense. In any case, the Brahmo Samaj remained confined to a miniscule minority in Bengal. One of its splinters, the Adi Brahmo Samaj, returned to Hinduism for all practical purposes. That is more than obvious in the works of Rabindranath Tagore, particularly his poetry which is saturated with Vedic imagery and Vaishnavite devotion.

The trail blazed by Keshub Chander Sen, however, did not go in vain. It was followed by the first disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who took over the Mission after the death of its founder, Swami Vivekananda. Most of these desciples of Sri Ramakrishna, particularly those two who compiled his Gospel and Biography had come from the flock of Keshub. It took them no time to swallow the 'synthesis' and its 'transcendance' offered by their earlier guru. The only difference was that they replaced Keshub by Sri Ramakrishna as being the last and the best who had seen the equal truth of all religions including Christianity and Islam, and 'synthesised' them in his own avatarhood. He was thus supposed to have given birth to a new and perfected religion, Ramakrishnaism. In my opinion, this new 'religion' cannot be equated with sarva-dharma-samabhâva. It is more a way of showing equal contempt for all religions, as in the case of Keshub. It is a different matter that the Mission has not been able to live upto its pretensions, and has become a Christian mission for all practical purposes.

Theosophy brought to India yet another strain of sarva-dharma-samabhâva. It proclaimed that all religions were ultimately derived from and were distortions of the Original One Religion known to the ancient Mahatmas, who had kept themselves hidden for a long time. But so far as the prevalent religions are concerned, Theosophy never said that they were the same or equally true. In fact, the first Theosophists who come to South India showed a marked preference for Hinduism, and encouraged Hindus to redicule and denounce Christianity, its totem, and its missions. Later on, Annie Besant founded the first Hindu College at Varanasi, and could never see eye to eye with Mahatma Gandhi when it came to Islam. The only Theosophist who really stood for sarva-dharma-samabhâva came from the heartland of Indian Islam, U.P. in North India. That was Dr. Bhagwan Das. But anyone who has studied different religions in right earnest can say without any hesitation that Bhagwan Das' magnum opus, Essential Unity of All Religions, is not much more than silly and sentimental humbug. He has missed the forest for the trees in the case of all religions when he picks up stray sentences from different scriptures and strings them together without any reference to context or their real meanings beyond the literal. Rather than studying and understanding all religions he is out to foist his own pet and preconceived notions on all of them.

So we are left with Mahatma Gandhi as the first and real prophet of sarva-dharma-samabhâva. I have gone through volumes of his Collected Works published so far. There is, little doubt that he is very proud of his Hindu Dharma, Hindu cultural heritage, Sanskrit language, idol-worship, the sacred thread, adoration for the cow, varNâshrama dharma, and so on. At places, his understanding of Hindu Dharma is pretty deep as, for instance, when he says that whatever is of substance in other religions is included in Hindu Dharma, and what has been excluded has no merit. He places the Gita above all other scriptures, though he may be much mistaken in his interpretation of Sri Krishna's message. There is no doubt that he is infatuated with Jesus Christ whom he identifies with the Sermon on the Mount, ignoring the rest of Jesus' sayings and doings in the Gospels. But when he compares Jesus with the Buddha, the latter, scores over the former. He is rather tough with Christian missions and accuses them of spreading poison. On one occasion, he goes to the extent of saying that Christianity became an imperialist creed when it captured the Roman Empire, and has stayed so ever since.

It is only in his encounter with Islam that we find him faltering and making terrible mistakes. The first seeds of his crawling at the feet of Islam can be seen during his days in South Africa. He had made a Gujarati translation of Washington's Irving's Life of Mahomet and started serializing it in his weekly. The Muslims snarled and ordered him to stop the series. He surrendered without going through even the motions of a protest. He had asked Hindus to be very hospitable to Professor (Bhai) Parmananda who was on a visit to South Africa. But the moment the professor uttered a few words in criticism of Islam, the Mahatma turned his back on him and advised Hindus to have nothing to do with him. The Muslims in South Africa criticized him for 'sacrificing' their interests when he signed an agreement with General Smuts and called off his satyagraha. A Pathan attacked and almost killed him. He kept quiet when Muslims accused him of not giving an account of the money they had contributed to his campaign fund. Again, he kept quiet.

The acme of his surrender to Islam was reached when he came out in support of the Khilafat agitation, and persuaded the Indian National Congress to launch the first all-India Non-Cooperation Movement in cooperation with the mullahs. The encomiums he heaped on the 'noble faith of Islam' sound like a mad man's ravings. The mullahs were mighty pleased with him. But as soon as he withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement in the aftermath of Chauri Chaura, the same mullahs came out in their true colours and accused him of stabbing them in the back! He never came out with a rejoinder, and kept mum even when foul abuse was hurled at him. Soon after, he did something much worse; he praised the 'brave' Moplah butchers of Hindus in Malabar for "being true to their religion as they understood it", and denounced the British Government of India for putting down the gangsters. (Moplahs who got killed by the British are now being hailed as freedom fighters!) When his attention was drawn to the fact that mullahs were inviting the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India, his only comment was, "But that is what their religion teaches them." He could never find any fault with any teaching of Islam, howsoever ugly, crude, cruel, and inhuman. On the other hand, he was quite outspoken in criticism of the Arya Samaj, particularly the Shuddhi Movement launched by Swami Shraddhananda in response to Hasan Nizami's plan to convert Hindus, particularly the untouchables, by means of fraud and inducements with a view to achieve parity of Muslim population with that of the Hindus.

The record of the Mahatma's sins against Hindu society is long and goes on piling up till the time of his tragic death. I have given only a few instances of how it all started. The explanations for his pervert behaviour can be many. It can be attributed to his deep seated conwardice which he transmuted into a religious principle. It can be attributed to his ambition to pass as a leader of all communities including Muslims. It can be attributed to his political opportunism which sought Muslim cooperation against the British Raj - at any cost. Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that he bound the Hindus hands and feet with the shackles of his sarva-dharma-samabhâva, and made them helpless in the face of Islamic gangsterism. At the same time, he gave full freedom to Muslims to deal with Hindus as they pleased. The record of what Muslim did under the leadership of the mullahs and the Muslim League exists in cold print. It never occurred to him to appeal to Muslims even once to practise sarva-dharma-samabhâva vis-à-vis Hinduism. That he thought was against their religion with which he could not interfere. The dope was meant only for Hindus.

The Mahatma had claimed all along that he had studied all religions including Islam, and found them equally imperfect. He never hesitated to point out imperfections in Hindu Dharma, once in a while even in Christianity. But nowhere in his voluminous writings and sayings do we find a single word pointing out the imperfections in Islam. On the contrary, we find him picking and choosing whatever fascinated him in the scriptures and history of this creed, and identifying the whole of Islam with those lollipops. It was the same exercise as the one undertaken by Dr. Bhagwan Das. The temptation to become the spokesman of all religions was irresistible for him, as for many Hindu gurus before and after. He ended by being the spokesmen of none, and made a mess of whatever religion he touched. He never evolved a criterion for distinguishing dharma from adharma.

It is, however, not only the Mahatma's behaviour vis-à-vis Islam which needs an explanation. A larger question which needs to be answered, is the behaviour of Hindus at large vis-à-vis the Mahatma. Why did Hindus ignore the voices of sanity raised about the Mahatma's leadership by Sri Aurobindo, Swami Shraddhanand, Veer Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand, K.B. Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar - to cite the names of the most-notable? Why did Hindus permit the Mahatma to barter away their most cherished interests for nothing in exchange? In fact, why did Hindus raise him to the status of a Mahatma, and sole spokesman on their behalf in spite of his oft-repeated disclaimer that he was not only a Hindu leader? Why did Hindus hail as 'nationalist Muslims' the likes of Maulana Azad and the Deoband flock who wanted the whole of India as dar al-Islam instead of being satisfied with a part as in the case of the Muslim League, simply because the Mahatma conferred that counterfeit certificate on them? Why did Hindus at large fall silent whenever the Mahatma unleashed his pet hounds - the Congress Socialists led by Pandit Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan - on those rare Hindus who could muster the courage to object to Muslim behaviour? How come the Arya Samajists lost their teeth vis-à-vis Islam and got tamed as soon as they joined the Indian National Congress led by the Mahatma? Why did Hindus accept an inveterate Hindu-hater like Pandit Nehru as their supreme commander as soon the Mahatma proclaimed "this boneless wonder of the East" (Motilal's words) as his heir? How come Hindus indulged in breast beating en masse, and hailed the Father of Pakistan as the Father of the Nation as soon he was consumed by the flames he had himself lit, in spite of the fad that he was the man most hated by Hindus in the aftermath of Partition? Why has the RSS, which has been trounced and tormented by the followers of the Mahatma ever since its birth, started falling back on the path blazed by the Mahatma? How come the BJS and the BJP, the political platforms manned by the RSS, embraced the mindless slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhâva, and placed the Hindu nation again in a cul-de-sac? There are many other questions which can be asked in the context of Mahatma Gandhi vis-à-vis Islam on the one hand and the Hindu nation on the other. Hindus have to find honest answers for all of them if they want to put their act together and survive. The only answer that occurs to me as a student of prolonged Islamic terrorism in India, is that Hindus are a terrorized society which has internalized and made a virtue out of a cowardly habit - the habit of surviving by flattering Islam and Muslims acquired during the long spell of Islamic invasions and rule. Mahatma Gandhi was the best representative of this damaged Hindu psyche. I can also say with confidence that the Sangh Parivar today has come to subscribe to sarva-dharma-samabhâva by internalizing the terror let loose on it by the 'secularist' State, particularly in Maharashtra in the aftermath of the Mahatma's murder.


Finally, I want to give a first hand account of my experience with the police and the courts and the Delhi Administration.

When I started writing in the Organiser my series on Islam, friends and well-wishers had warned me not to touch Islam because they thought the consequences could be terrible. They had in mind the crimes committed by Muslims against critics of their creed in recent times. A similar advice had been tendered to me when I started writing a critique of Communism in 1949 in that communist den - the great city of Calcutta. Tarashankar Bandopadhyaya, the noted Bengali novelist, had advised me to keep on armed guard! I had thanked them but ignored their advice. I did the same this time also. I received no threat from Muslims. A few postcards came several years later. They abused me in obscene language for presenting some facts in a Hindi daily about Muinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. I had only quoted from the orthodox biographies of the sufi. All these missives were anonymous.

It may sound surprising but it is true that the first attack on me was mounted by RSS leaders. I had been writing in the Organiser for an year or so (1981-82) when a RSS member quoted some Urdu poetry to counter my reading of Islam. He did not seem to know that Urdu poetry has been a revolt against the closed creed of Islam, most of the time. A more serious development was a meeting of some RSS top brass in which it was said, "Goel is not Gandhi, and the Organiser is not the Harijan so that he should write every week." As a result, K.R. Malkani who had nursed the weekly for more than a score of years, through thick and thin, was sacked all of a sudden, V.P. Bhatia who took over told me point blank, "Our people do not look favourably on your writing about Islam.' I stopped writing in the Organiser.

The fact about the meeting and what was said about me in it, became known to me much later. Immediately, I felt mystified because my articles had been acclaimed widely by the readers in India and abroad, from whom I had received several hundred laudatory letters. The cat came out of the bag when I chanced to meet H.V. Seshadri, and asked him why my series in the Organiser had been stopped. He barked back, "You…you go and attack Islam. Then how will any Muslim come to us." I said, "Do you want Muslims to come to you?" He replied, "As a strategy…." I walked out of his room before he could complete the sentence. This word 'strategy' makes me feel sick when it is used as a substitute for truthfulness. Later on, I learnt that Seshadri was voicing the BJP view that my articles were "costing the party all its Muslim votes"!

So I went ahead on my own and joined Ram Swarup's Voice of India to present our case to the Hindu society at large. The response was rewarding and, in due course, we were able to mobilize a lot of first rate scholarship.

But it was not before long that hints of trouble from the Delhi Administration came. I had reprinted in 1983 Ram Swarup's Understanding Islam Through Hadis, which A. Ghosh (Houston, Texas) had got published in the U.S.A. in 1982. A bookseller informed me that he had seen this book among those which were being examined by the Home Department of the Delhi Administration, and may be banned. I sought an interview with the concerned Deputy Secretary in the Home Department. He was a Hindu by accident of birth as I soon discovered. His Press Adviser, a Muslim gentleman, was present. I told them, "This book is a summary of the Sahih Muslim, chapter by chapter. The author has only added some comments, here and there, to elucidate some theological terms or episodes in the life of the Prophet. Tell me if Ram Swarup has added anything which is not in the Sahih Muslim, or suppressed some material which goes in favour of Islam or the Prophet." The Press Adviser did not reply to my question, and turned me over to the Deputy Secretary. This worthy had kept on looking grim all along, and did not relax even after my explanation. He dismissed me without saying a word, with his lips pressed in a pout of utter contempt as if I had uttered some obscenity.

I waited for four years to see if the book invited a ban. Nothing happened. So I brought out a second reprint in 1987 as the first reprint had been sold out fast. At the same time, I commissioned Rameshwar Shukla 'Pankaj' to translate the book in Hindi. Two thousand printed copies of the Hindi translation were sent to the binder in early December 1987. It was Saturday the 19th of December. I was at my home when I received a phone call from my office that the SHO of Hauz Kazi Police Station in Old Delhi had arrested the binder, and taken away the whole lot of translation copies which were still unbound. I rushed to the office, and tried to contact my lawyer, Alok Kumar. But before I could locate him, policemen wielding lathis surrounded the office, and asked me to accompany them to an Assistant Police Commissioner (ACP) to explain matters. They assured me that I was not being arrested. But the ACP uttered obscenities as soon I opened my mouth, and told me that he had nothing to do with the case. And as I came out of his room, I found the SHO Hauz Kazi waiting for me. He shouted at me and ordered me to get into his jeep which had its engine running.

Soon after we reached the Police Station, he shouted at me, "tû kaun hai? yeh kyâ kiyâ? bahut baDi riot hote hote ruki hai (who arst thou? what hast thou done? A big riot was about to break out)." I told him that I was nobody, and did not understand the accusation. He barked, "musalmân ubal rahen haiN. unke gharoN kî chhatoN par behisâb îNt patthar rakkhâ hai, gharoN ke bhîtar golâ bârûd: wê jab châheN shahar meN âg lagâ sakte haiN (Muslims are excited. They have heaps of bricks and stones piled up on the roofs of their houses, and firearms within. They can set the city on fire whenever they want). I asked him why the police had allowed them to collect and keep the arsenal. He snarled, "yeh bât to apne netâoN se pûcho, meN to ek garîb policeman huN, bacchon kâ pet pal rahâ huN (put this question to your leaders, I am only a poor policeman trying to feed my family). I kept quite.

Meanwhile, the news that I had been picked up by the police had spread. A score of Hindu youngmen rushed into the SHO's office, and demanded my release unless the SHO wanted them to organize a demonstration outside his Police Station. The SHO was taken aback. Suddenly he became very polite, and said, "I assure you that I will not arrest him. Muslims in the area are holding a meeting, and happen to be very much excited. Let them calm down, and I will set him free." At the same time, he asked the binder to go home.

The youngmen went away, believing in his assurance. Now he turned towards me with his face softened for the first time. He asked me, "âp kyâ haiN? (what are you?)." I repeated my earlier reply that I was nobody. He smiled and said, "âp zarûr koi important âdmî haiN. itminân rakhiye meN âpko giraftâr nahiN karûNga. musalmânoN kî meeting khatam ho jâye to âp ghar jâ sakte haiN (you are surely some important man. I assure you I will not arrest you. Let the meeting the Muslims are holding be over, and you can go home).

By this time, the husband of the printer who happened to be a lady and lived across the Jumuna, had also been brought to the Police Station. Fortunately, the constables the SHO had sent to the press were in a hurry, and did not try to find out who owned the press. They just picked up her husband who had come out to talk to them. Thus the lady escaped the disgrace by an hair's breadth.

The SHO was now fully relaxed, and became jolly. He started speaking in English. He tried to get from me the addresses of Ram Swarup and 'Pankaj'. I kept quite. He laughed and said, "I am not the man to be fooled so easily. I know you have written the book, and also translated it. You are functioning under three different names." I heaved a sigh of relief. I was praying that the author and the translator do not get into trouble.

An hour passed. It was nine o'clock in the evening. A peon came, and requested the SHO to take a telephone call on an extension in another room. The SHO went, and came back after a few minutes. He pulled a long face and said, "I am sorry, Mr. Goel. I have to arrest you." He asked us to empty all our pockets, and made inventories of whatever cash etc. we had. We were given the receipts. But we were treated very well. My sons who were present all along were asked to get our bedding and food from home. We were allowed to sleep in a normal room, and not in the lock-up. It remains a mystery who had pulled the strings at nine o'clock.

My lawyers came next morning, a Sunday, and assured us that we would be granted bail by the duty magistrate. We had a change of clothes and took our lunch brought from home. It was 2 p.m. when we were driven to the Tis Hazari Courts, and presented to the magistrate. The police lawyer asked that we be kept in police custody, at least for another week. Our lawyers argued for immediate bail. The magistrate refused to oblige the police, and bailed us out.

As we emerged out of the court, there were a number of friends, relatives, and sympathisers waiting outside. One of them, a rich man, asked me, "What was the matter?" I told him that I had published a book which Muslims thought offensive. He observed, "Why do you do such things? There is no problem. If Muslims take power, we shall become Muslims. It is as simple as that. Why should you invite trouble on a minor matter (chhotî sî bât par)?" What could I say. Hindu psyche had suffered a serious damage.

I learnt that Professor Balraj Madhok and some other leaders belonging to the Hindu Manch, had held a meeting on Saturday night and registered a protest against police highhandedness. But there was not a word from anyone in the RSS or the BJP. I wonder if anyone in their ranks had even noticed the event. Or maybe they did not want to offend their Muslim voters. It was after a month that I received a telephone call from Bhai Mahavir, a BJP leader out of favour with the big ones. As I told him the story, he asked me, "And none of our people protested?" I told him that they had not even noticed the event. He said he was sorry that things had reached such a pass.

Three years rolled by. The Delhi Administration made its Screening Committee examine the English original of the book as well as its Hindi translation. They could find nothing objectionable and ordered the court to close the case. It was closed on 28 September 1990. Our lawyers applied for release of the two thousand copies lying in the Police Station. But what we received was a letter from the Home Department of the Delhi Administration stating that the Hindi translation stood banned whenever published. That was in November 1990. In March 1991 we received another letter proclaiming that the English original had been banned as well. Both the letters were signed by M.U. Siddhiqui who had taken over as the Deputy Secretary.

In the meantime, the earlier Deputy Secretary whom I had met in connection with Understanding Islam Through Hadis, had succeeded in involving me and the lady printer in another criminal case in the middle of 1986

A friend in the Hindu Mahasabha had sold to me in 1985 a few hundred copies of a booklet, The Dead Hand of Islam by Colin Maine, published in 1982 by the Rationalist Association of Australia. It was reprint of an article which had been published earlier in The Truth Seeker, organ of the Rationalist Association of the U.S.A. It was a 16-pages booklet with as many as ninety quotation from the Quran, the Hadis, and the writings of well-known Islamologists from the West. I put the title on my next catalogue and the entire stock of the small priced publication got sold in a few months. So I published a reprint in 1986 from Voice of India.

Some Muslim gentleman seems to have lodged a complaint against it with the Delhi Administration. I came to know of it when a policeman from the Daryaganj Police Station in New Delhi, was reported to be in search of 'Wife of India' who had published Islâm Kâ Murdâr Hâth. Obviously, the complaint was written in Urdu and the word 'voice' had become 'wife' due to the peculiarity of the Urdu script. He had also missed the metaphor in 'dead hand' and translated it literally as 'murdâr hâth', which certainly sounded offensive. Finally, the policeman stumbled on our office, and took away a copy of our catalogue. Some days later, Voice of India received a letter from the Home Department, Delhi Administration, citing a number of passages from the booklet as falling under Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code, and informing me that a criminal case had been instituted against me and the printer. The letter had been signed by the above mentioned Hindu Deputy Secretary.

The policeman from the Daryaganj Police Station came again, and asked me to go and see a certain officer in the Crime Branch at Police Headquarters. I met the officer on the appointed date and time. He was a perfect gentleman. He made me sign some papers, and granted bail within a few minutes. Next day, he went all the way to the press, and bailed out the lady printer on the spot. I felt rather good about the Delhi police. I had yet to have the experience related earlier.

But the ordeal that followed in the Tis Hazari Courts in Delhi taxed my patience to the limit. The case dragged on for eleven long years. The lady printer and I had to spend long hours in crowded corridors outside many a magistrate's room, once every one or two months. The sprawling court building had no drinking water or toilet facilities worth the name. What was more taxing, the concerned court had no magistrate for long intervals, and we had wait till the court clerk thought it fit to take us to some other magistrate for assigning the next date. Many a time, the court was closed on the assigned date because some holiday had been declared suddenly, or the lawyers went on a strike on one pretext or the other which was quite frequent. We had to present ourselves again the very next day for getting another date, which became more difficult because the court had to deal with persons called on that day as well as the previous day. All we could get was the next date after a day-long wait.

We had put ourselves in the hands of Alok Kumar (now a BJP Member of the Delhi Legislative Assembly) who all along tried to do his best. He had specialized in cases under Sections 153A and 295A, and succeeded every time in arguing so well that all cases he handled fell through without charges being framed. He argued our case before the first two magistrates, but both of them got transferred before they could write a judgement. The third magistrate pleaded lack of time for hearing argument after assigning a date and time. She was also transferred soon after. The next magistrate looked at me from head to foot (I am always poorly dressed), and asked me how old I was. Then he said, "Your lawyer has been dragging the case in the hope that you will die soon, and he will be spared the trouble of arguing the case." His speech was in Hindi and had an unmistakable tinge of contempt. But he was taken aback when I addressed His Honour in English, and told him how the case had remained undecided in spite of being argued twice. Alok Kumar had been delayed, so that he had not accompanied me when the call for us came. He appeared soon after, and lodged a strong protest when I told him what the magistrate had said. Now the magistrate was all smiles, but not at all apologetic. He observed, "You may argue before me as well if you like. But I will also not be able to write a judgement. Who would like to decide such delicate cases?" Fortunately for us, he was transferred soon after.

The next magistrate was reluctant to fix time for argument because he said he had too much on his hands. But after assigning several postponements, he finally agreed to hear the argument. When we presented ourselves on the an time fixed, we learnt that the magistrate had been dismissed from service for some reason.

Another magistrate took up our case after a delay of several months. He showed surprise, assured us that he will deliver a judgement, and gave us the next date. But the lawyers went on strike on that day. Alok Kumar could not appear. On the next date, Alok Kumar came but the magistrate could not attend due to some unavoidable reason. What we heard next was that he too had been transferred.

Our luck took a turn when Shri S.K. Kaushik came to preside over the concerned court. He dismissed the case on 5 April 1997, the very first day we appeared before him, on the basis of a new Supreme Court ruling (known as Common Cause judgement) that cases which had lingered for more than two years without charges being framed, could be dismissed straight away. We heaved a big sigh of relief that the eleven year long ordeal was over. But in the next few days we received summons to appear again in the same case on 26 April. The prosecution had complained that the Supreme Court judgement did not cover cases involving public tranquility. Sri Kaushik, however, was determined to decide the case one way or the other. He heard the argument from both sides on that very day. The public prosecutor did not have much to say except presenting a copy of the Supreme Court ruling, and pointing out that the booklet was indeed a serious threat to public tranquility. Alok Kumar, however, put up a brilliant performance, citing the relevant case law, and pointing out very forcefully that if the Indian Constitution gave freedom to missionary religions to seek converts by presenting their creeds in luminous colours, the other side had not only the right but was also under obligation to examine the creeds and inform the public about their shortcomings. His argument was heard by the magistrate, the public prosecutor, and by us in pin-drop silence, such was his build up of facts and logic. Even so, we came out of the court with out fingers crossed. Shri Kaushik delivered his judgement on 5 May 1997. He dismissed the case. Our ordeal was over at last.

I may add that though the criminal cases against the publisher and printer of both publications were dismissed, the publications themselves remain banned. I am told that lifting of ban on publications comes under another procedure. I do not have the heart or the health or the means to pursue the matter.

In 1993, the Dariyaganj Police Station was out to repeat the performance by the Hauz Kazi Police Station when Syed Shahabuddin wrote a letter to P.M. Sayeed, Minister of State, Government of India requiring a ban on Ram Swarup's Hindu View of Christianity and Islam. A policeman came to our office and took away a copy of the book. He returned next day, and said, "The police cannot judge the book on its own. There should be some government department which performs the duty." Our office informed him about the Press Advisor of the Delhi Administration. In fact, our office telephoned the Press Advisor's office in the policeman's Presence. The office said that the book may be sent to them by the Police Station. The policeman went away. He, however returned again next day, and said, "Our SHO wants to see either Ram Swarup or Sita Ram Goel. One of them should go and meet him at 4 o'clock in the afternoon tomorrow." I could smell the mischief immediately. I went into hiding, advised Ram Swarup to do the same, and asked Alok Kumar to get us anticipatory bail. Due to the persuasive powers of Alok Kumar, the Court granted the bail in the next few days, and we came out of hiding. Then came Arun Shourie's piece, How should we respond? in his syndicated column appealing to Hindus to defy the ban if imposed. The police took no further step.


Section II of this book reproduces twelve reviews6 of the book, Why I Am Not A Muslim by Ibn Warraq, published in the U.S.A. in 1995, and an article by Shabir Akhtar spelling out what Islam means vis-à-vis freedom of expression. Eleven of them have been sent to us by Hindu residents in the U.S.A. and England. They show how the press functions freely in Western democracies which practise Secularism in its original sense. There is only one review from India which appeared in a Telegu monthly. That is why I have named this Section as Liberal Democracy.

It is true that there is no dearth of apologists for Islam in the Western democracies.7 Some of them are hired scribes, others inhibited because Islam is after all a sister creed of Christianity to which they subscribe. Moreover, a new cult called 'multiculturism' has also surfaced in the West after the Second World War, particularly after the flow of fabulous Muslim finance from the oil-rich Middle East. The votaries of this cult frown, sometimes in very strong language, on those who examine Islam on rationalist and humanist grounds. Most of the time, they belong to the tribe which had apologised for and heaped laurels on Stalinism and Maoism before the collapse of Communism. Western universities and a large part of the Western media remain their strongholds, as in the case of India. In fact, Multiculturism in the West has a very close resemblance to Indian Secularism, because the same scholars and scribes throw no end of mud on the religion of the majority - Christianity. Even so, there is Western media which refuses to be dictated by Multiculturism, or cowed down by Islamic terrorism. I wanted to highlight this fact in this book. Rest is for the readers to judge for themselves.

Sita Ram Goel

New Delhi,
20 May 1998


1 S. Gopal (ed.), Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 18, New Delhi, 1996, p. 661.

2 Pandit Nehru's fondness for Islam and Islamic heroes is well-known, particularly in his Glimpses of World History and The Discovery of India. His commitment to Communism may be seen in Sita Ram Goel, Genesis and Growth of Nehruism, Volume I, voice of India, New Delhi, 1993. His doting on Christianity can be read in his circular letter to Chief Ministers dated 17 October 1952 (Selected Works, Second Series, New Delhi, Volume 19, pp. 733-34) cited in Sita Ram Goel (ed.), Vindicated By Time: The Niyogi Committee Report on Christian Missionary Activities, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1998, Introduction, pp. 6-7. See also Sita Ram Goel, Perversion of India's Political Parlance, Revised Reprint, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995.

3 I mean by Sikhism the principles and practices prescribed in the Adi Grantha and the lives of the Gurus, and not what the latter-day neo-Sikhs have forced it to mean, that is, a monotheistic cult close to Islam and Christianity.

4 Quran, 109.6 and 2.256. Harsh Narain has placed both these sentences in their proper context and shown that they mean the opposite of what they have been made to mean by Islamic apologists and 'secularists' in India (Myths of Composite Culture and Equality of Religions), Voice of India, New Delhi, 1991, pp. 55-57

5 Constitution and Rules (as amended by the National Council at Gandhinagar, Gujarat, on 2nd May 1992) of the Bharatiya Janata Party, pp. 3-4 and 19.

6 Six of these reviews have already been included in an earlier publication, Time For Stock Taking: Whither Sangh Parivar?, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1997.

7 See Daniel Pipes, The Rushdie Affair, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1998.