11th October, 2011

Shared war experiences

by guest at 9:47 am    

This is a guest post by Haroon Ravat.

Many observers trace the origin and development of the English Defence League to a poppy-burning publicity stunt staged by the group Muslims Against Crusaders (MAC) at last year’s Armistice Day commemorations. For many British Muslims like myself, the actions of MAC left us in a precarious situation with the tabloid press intent on providing front page publicity to a fanatical fringe and strengthening the EDL argument that we are a minority of fifth-columnists who cannot be trusted in relation to our loyalties to Britain. Muslims who adopted a principled anti-interventionist attitude towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also felt that they could no longer articulate their position without being connected somehow to the opinions of Anjum Chaudhry’s band of merry but troubled men.

The recent murders of Haroon Jahan, Shahzad Ali and Abdul Musavir forced a much needed realignment in public opinion towards Britain’s largest and arguably most visible minority. Brutally run over whilst protecting local shops from looters, the principle of laying down your life in order to protect the innocent was thought to be an archaic concept from bygone eras of conquest and marauding tribes. However, within a moment of tragedy the boys recovered for many thousands of British Muslims the true meaning of the word ‘jihad’, which means ‘to struggle’ in Arabic from the nihilists of Al-Qaida.

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Filed under: EDL,History,Muslim
30th August, 2011

Eid Mubarak

by Jai at 1:00 pm    

Pickled Politics would like to wish our Muslim readers “Eid Mubarak”, as today marks the end of Ramadan (or “Ramzan”, as we South Asians pronounce it).

Some suitable music to mark the occasion:

A live performance of an extract from “Man Kunto Maula”, by the Pakistani singers Atif Aslam and Riaz Ali Khan. Dedicated to Ali, this devotional song was written by the Indian Sufi poet and musician Amir Khusrau in the 13th century; it is regarded as the first qawwali in Indian history. Amir Khusrau, the Sufi Muslim saint Nizamuddin Auliya’s most famous disciple, is widely regarded as one of the founders of North Indian classical music as an organised art form. Atif Aslam is the younger singer in the video below; he often contributes to the soundtracks for Indian films, and has become very popular during the past couple of years.

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Filed under: History,Muslim,Religion
14th April, 2011

Happy Vaisakhi

by Jai at 8:00 am    

Today is Vaisakhi. In Sikhism, it commemorates the anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa in 1699 by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, depicted here.

Readers may wish to refer to last year’s Pickled Politics article about Vaisakhi for a summary of the historical, ideological and theological factors involved.

Along with fully militarising the Sikh population, Guru Gobind Singh was also responsible for compiling the final version of the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, which includes hundreds of sacred verses originally written by Muslims.

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Filed under: History,Religion,Sikh
15th March, 2011

The British monarch who could write Hindi and Urdu

by Rumbold at 2:03 pm    

I have been enjoying the latest research by Shrabani Basu into Queen Victoria and her relationship (almost certainly non-sexual) with her Indian tutor, a young Muslim named Abdul Karim who arrived in the UK aged 24:

That Mr Karim inspired the empress of India could be seen not just by her newfound love of curry. Her eagerness to learn Urdu and Hindi because of his teaching was so strong that she even learned to write in both languages – and gave him a signed photo written in Urdu.

She also used his briefings on political developments in India at the turn of the 19th Century to berate successive viceroys, her representatives in India – much to their displeasure – on measures they could have taken to reduce communal tensions. “At a time when the British empire was at its height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its sovereign,” Ms Basu said.

He was sacked by her son Edward VII a few hours after her death, and efforts were made by the royal court to destroy all records of him.

22nd February, 2011

My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence

by guest at 4:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

My grandmother’s story is perhaps the story of thousands of Indian women even today. As a vivacious, young woman, she had attended college more than 73 years ago, at a time when most Indian women, even in the middle and upper classes were illiterate. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer someday, like her father. Even now she fondly recalls how in college she had played the role of Portia (who takes on the disguise of a male lawyer to save a friend’s life), in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. But my grandmother never got to be Portia in real life.

She was soon forced to marry a man that her family considered to be a good match for her — an engineer, who had just returned from England, and had his own flourishing firm. However he did not appeal to her and she made that clear from the start. But her wishes and desires were of little consequence, and she was pressurized into the marriage. It was not just a marriage that was the equivalent of rape, but for more than 50 years she also had to endure terrible emotional and physical violence.

The first time that my grandfather had slapped her, she had turned around and walked out of the house just as she was — barefoot and in her dressing gown. She walked that way right across town, back to her parents’ house, and refused to return to her husband. It is something that women in the middle and upper-classes in India simply did not do! And still don’t. For a society that places the highest premium on “a family’s reputation” — the pressure is that much more on women in the educated and elite sections to remain silent, and return to their marriages to keep up social appearances. In the end that is what my grandmother too had to do.

I look around, among the middle and upper educated classes in India, and see my grandmother’s story repeating over and over again, even today!! How do these women endure the betrayal of their own parents, snuffing out their dreams and forcing them into unions that are nothing more than rape? How and why do they endure the continuing violence — and a society that remains blind and indifferent to the injustice of their lives, while it continues to exalt marriage and traditions as it supreme altars? Why, when they are educated and working, do these women not break their silence; break the tradition of enduring torture in the name of family and honor? This was my reason for writing ‘My Grandmother’s Memories.’ Read the article ‘My Grandmother’s Memories’ here in The Wordworth Magazine (click on Columns).

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

28th January, 2011

Bulleh Shah, “blasphemy”, and Pakistan

by Jai at 9:00 am    

Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of Salman Taseer (the assassinated Pakistani Governor of Punjab), recently wrote a poignant Guardian CiF article about her father’s murder which also mentioned Bulleh Shah:

“My father was buried in Lahore on 5 January under high security. Cleric after cleric refused to lead his funeral prayers – as they had those of the sufi saint Bulleh Shah – and militants warned mourners to attend at their own peril. But thousands came to Governor House on that bitterly cold morning to pay their respects. Thousands more led candle-lit vigils across the country. But the battle is not going to be over any time soon.”

Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) is one of the most famous and revered Sufi Muslims in South Asian history; he was also one of the historical role models of the late Pakistani Sufi Muslim singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his family, who have themselves been Sufis since the medieval period. The saint’s shrine is in the Punjabi city of Kasur, now in Pakistan, and can be seen in the photo at the top of this article.

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20th January, 2011

Dara Shukoh and the fate of Pakistan: Part 2

by Jai at 9:00 am    

This article follows on directly from Part 1, which detailed the Mughal crown prince Dara Shukoh, his philosophy and his interpretation of Islam. Readers are therefore strongly advised to read that part first before continuing below.

Shah Jahan temporarily fell ill during the late 1650s. False rumours spread, claiming that he had died and that Dara Shukoh was now the Mughal emperor. Aurangzeb exploited this as an opportunity to grab power by mobilising his own military forces, ignoring his sister’s urgent correspondence confirming that their father was indeed still alive and that Aurangzeb was therefore committing an action of treason, and eventually imprisoned Shah Jahan opposite the Taj Mahal. During the resulting war of succession, Dara Shukoh was given some military assistance by the 7th Sikh Guru during one of the battles, but the prince was ultimately defeated later in the conflict, as Aurangzeb had greater experience as a military commander and was a far more ruthless individual. Dara’s weakened wife had already died while the family had been attempting to reach the safe haven of Persia, and Dara sent her body with an armed escort to Mian Mir’s shrine in Lahore for burial nearby.

The 44-year-old Dara Shukoh and his 15-year-old son Sipihr Shukoh were captured after being betrayed by an Afghan “ally” they’d sought refuge with (ironically, Dara had previously saved the Afghan from being executed by Shah Jahan). A few days later, Dara was humiliatingly paraded through the Mughal capital of Delhi, resulting in a huge outcry from the city’s inhabitants due to his immense popularity. He wouldn’t even survive for a single day afterwards, because Aurangzeb could see that Dara’s popularity amongst the mass population posed a severe risk of a huge uprising against the fanatical regime attempting to engineer a political coup, and Dara was also a clear final barrier to his own desire for the imperial throne.

Aurangzeb had access to some ultraconservative mullahs sympathetic to him, and rapidly had his brother impeached, declared an “apostate”, and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of “heresy”. On the night of 30th August 1659, Dara Shukoh was unceremoniously beheaded in his prison cell, in front of his young son Sipihr, although Dara had put up a fight to try to physically defend himself. Dara’s older son Suleiman Shukoh was also eventually captured; as per Aurangzeb’s instructions, over an extended period of time the incarcerated Suleiman was gradually poisoned by being fed large quantities of opium extracts which, after effectively lobotomising him, ultimately killed him.

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19th January, 2011

Dara Shukoh and the fate of Pakistan: Part 1

by Jai at 9:00 am    

The recent murder of the Governor of Punjab in Pakistan, Salman Taseer, and the increasing escalation of visible religious extremism in that country brings to mind a notable historical precedent, involving a major figure in South Asian history who was also the governor of Punjab for a time. There are some serious implications for both Pakistan and the rest of the world if history is allowed to repeat itself.

The painting at the top of this article, commissioned circa 1650, depicts the builder of the Taj Mahal, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, meeting the crown prince Muhammad Dara Shukoh (sometimes also spelt “Shikoh” or “Shikuh”). Dara Shukoh is the figure standing on the right.

Dara Shukoh, born in 1615, was Shah Jahan’s favourite son and nominated heir. Like most of the major Mughals during their reign in India, Dara was a liberal patron of music, dancing and arts (an example of an album of pictures he personally painted as a gift for his wife Nadira Banu can be viewed via the British Library); Dara was also closely affiliated with the Qadiri Sufi order, especially the Muslim saint Mian Mir, who had been invited by one of the Sikh Gurus to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The land for the temple complex and the city of Amritsar itself had been granted to the Sikhs by Dara’s great-grandfather, the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, justifiably known as Akbar the Great.

Dara Shukoh himself was similarly heavily involved in promoting religious moderation, friendship and understanding between people of different faiths; with the assistance of some Hindu Brahmin priests, his activities included translating more than 50 of the most important ancient Hindu scriptures (especially the Upanishads) from Sanskrit into Persian so that Muslims could understand them better, with the intention that this would prevent unwarranted prejudice based on ignorance. Dara’s translations later proved invaluable in helping colonial-era Europeans understand the Hindu texts concerned, as they were originally more familiar with Persian than Sanskrit.

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28th December, 2010

BBC stars ‘blacked up’ controversy

by Rumbold at 10:39 am    

Having watched Little Britain once, briefly, I have been fortunate to have escaped it ever since. It came across as unpleasant and unfunny, and it seems that the show’s creators have continued in the same vein with their recent Christmas Day special. Matt Lucas and David Walliams decided to ‘black up‘ in order to play a number of characters, including a black woman:

Lucas darkens his face and wears a beard to play a Muslim worker called Taaj. He also adopts a strong West Indian accent to play a black woman called Precious who works in the coffee shop.

Though the story has been mainly pushed in the Daily Mail, which has a vendetta against the BBC, the reaction of the BBC’s spokesman was pretty weak:

A BBC spokesman said: ‘Come Fly With Me had a huge audience and many people loved it. ‘Matt and David play all the characters and they are representing a multicultural society. They are not setting out to offend people.’

“Representing a multicultural society” by ‘blacking up’? Oh dear. One of the main problems with ‘blacking up’ or blackface’ is its historical legacy. Most prominent in America as a way of perpetuating negative stereotypes of black men (and women), it also came to this country mainly in the form of the Black and White Minstrel show. Many people found it offensive at the time and still do so today. Nor is this the first time Little Britain has used ‘blacked up’ characters.

Filed under: EDL,History,Media
25th December, 2010

Merry Christmas

by Jai at 8:30 am    

According to Christian tradition, today marks the birthday of Jesus Christ. Christianity actually has a very long history in the subcontinent; there have been settled communities of Christians in India for hundreds of years longer than there have been Christians in northern Europe (including Britain). Thomas the Apostle is also believed to have been sent to India by Jesus to spread his message; St Thomas is buried in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Apocryphally, there are some unconfirmed legends of Jesus visiting Buddhist monasteries in northern India and Tibet during the “missing years” between his childhood and his early thirties.

More recently (relatively speaking), several of the Mughal emperors, who were all Muslims, were particularly broad-minded about Jesus, Christianity, and Christian artefacts.

For example, the arch over the gateway to the main mosque in Akbar the Great’s old imperial capital near Agra displays a quote attributed to Jesus; a large mural of the Nativity was displayed in Akbar’s sleeping chambers; and Jesuit missionaries were allowed to set up a chapel within the imperial palace itself.

Akbar’s son & successor Jahangir, who owned a large carving of Jesus on the Cross, kept large-framed pictures of Jesus and the Madonna in his own sleeping quarters.

In fact, Jahangir appeared to be so amenable to Christian theology that Jesuit missionaries mistakenly believed that he was on the brink of formally converting from Islam right until the very end. During the reigns of Akbar and Jahangir, missionaries built churches at several locations in the Mughal Empire, and Christians were free to openly celebrate major festivals such as Christmas and Easter.

Multiple paintings and murals depicting various aspects of Jesus, Mary and Christian saints were commissioned by the Mughals, and were displayed not only on the walls of the palace but also on Mughal tombs and caravanserais. The picture at the top of this article is a painting of the Nativity, created during the reign of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah, circa 1720. During the 1850s, the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s own physician formally converted to Christianity, to which the emperor simply replied that the man’s faith was his own private matter and “there was no cause for shame in what he had done”.

In modern-day India, Christmas is a major national holiday.

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Filed under: History,Religion
21st December, 2010

The Daily Mail 100 years ago*

by Rumbold at 9:22 am    

Reading through Professor Andrew’s history of MI5, I came across a story about anti-German propaganda in the run up to the first world war.

In 1906, a popular author, William Le Queux, published a book, The Invasion of 1910, explaining in meticulous detail German plans to invade Britain in 1910. The plans were made up by the author, but were widely believed. They were serialised by the Daily Mail, whose proprietor had a special hatred of the Germans (in his final will he accused them of poisoning him by ice cream).

The Daily Mail changed the invasion plans in the book, as they felt that there were too many villages on the invasion route where the Daily Mail’s circulation was low. Instead towns were added with a greater number of Daily Mail readers (to induce extra fear).

The serialisation added 80,000 to the Daily Mail’s readership and contributed to greater anti-German feeling.

*Well, 104 years ago.

Filed under: History,Humour,Media
6th December, 2010

Locating Gandhi (part two)

by guest at 7:54 pm    

This is a guest post by KJB. Part one is located here.

Yesterday I examined Gandhi’s motivations and character. Now I want to turn my attention to how he is viewed in the modern day and why. Rita asked

What is this need in India to worship people? Why can’t we in India learn to examine people like people — like normal flesh and bones human beings??

Rita also bemoaned the treatment of Gandhi as a ‘saint,’ saying

I thought — how come these things are never discussed when we are given this pre-processed, recycled hash on Gandhi in our school text books.

Which is all fair enough, but as I said to her – Perhaps you ought to have enquired into why that is. I would be interested as to what exactly she’s trying to combat here, as the piece gave me no idea. Who believes in this straw-Gandhi that she has created? For whose benefit is her piece? My family and most Sikh people I know absolutely hate the man, for reasons ironically similar to Rita’s but with even less awareness of him than she, and most non-Indians are so ignorant of him that they barely register him as an influence on MLK and Mandela, let alone as an untouchable saintly figure. In fact, I’ve noticed non-Indian (usually American) people use their complete ignorance about him as a basis for making stupid and unfunny jokes, which is hardly worshipful. I hated the man before I read his writing, and now I respect him, but still recognise that he was massively problematic and yes, hypocritical. It’s really worthwhile reading the entire section on Gandhi, gender and sexuality in Javed’s book as it incorporates the most current feminist critique of Gandhi but doesn’t stereotype the man. Ironically, Rita does what she is despairing of: propagating the image of Gandhi as a ‘saint’, because instead of bringing him back down to human reckoning by recognising his complexities, she simply takes the ignorant devotee’s caricature and replaces ‘good’ with ‘bad’.

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Filed under: History,India
5th December, 2010

Locating Gandhi (part one)

by guest at 9:02 pm    

This is a guest post by KJB.

There was an interesting post on PP recently by Rita Banerji, entitled How Gandhian Are Obama’s Politics?

First of all, it would seem to be a fairly obvious yet fundamental rule that when working with a major public/historical figure, caution is necessary. The bigger the figure, the greater the caution that must be used, since that person will be relevant not just to the local history of their nation, but globally. When the person is, furthermore, dead and unable to defend themselves or clarify meanings, you have to try even harder to watch your step.

This is the problem with Rita’s approach to Gandhi. She has taken personal bugbears of hers – child sexual abuse, the dismal position of Indian women, the tendency towards mindless, cultish elevation of individuals in Indian society – and decided that these things are Gandhi’s fault, because they should be.

It’s a real shame, because Rita’s aims are utterly noble, and some of the points made in the piece and in comments, were very astute, the following points need debunking. Rita argued that

To sum up Gandhi’s ideologies, they included the rejection of all of the following: war and weaponry, capitalism, large-scale industries, and science and technology.

Well… the most fundamental core of Gandhi’s philosophy is non-violence. While this characterisation isn’t incorrect, it’s not particularly accurate either, since it doesn’t even mention the most important bit of his crackpot bundle of beliefs. Not unlike Rita herself in this article, Gandhi starts with a particular point (non-violence) and everything branches off of and returns to, that central point.

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Filed under: History,India
27th November, 2010

How Gandhian Are Obama’s Politics?

by guest at 12:01 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

The news of President Obama’s admiration for Gandhi preceded his visit to India. How Gandhi has inspired his life, and how a portrait of his hangs in his Senate office. He told the Indian Parliament that he owes his own Presidency to Gandhi. So how closely does Obama follow in his mentor’s footsteps?

To sum up Gandhi’s ideologies, they included the rejection of all of the following: war and weaponry, capitalism, large-scale industries, and science and technology. On the eve before his departure President Obama assured an economically depressed U.S., “I’m going to be leaving tomorrow for India, and the primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia and some of the fastest-growing markets in the world.” And he did exactly that by striking some hard, billion dollars sales deals with India on the purchase of weapons, warfare systems and Boeing aircraft.

Though it might seem like Obama is contradicting Gandhi’s ideologies, he isn’t doing anything that Gandhi himself didn’t.

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13th November, 2010

After Remembrance Day: the contribution of the British Indian army

by guest at 6:53 pm    

contribution by Jahan Mahmood, cross-posted from The Samosa

In Britain’s hour of need, when she faced the might of the German Army, it was not America that came to her aid but the fighting men of the Indian subcontinent. They came from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and most of all the province of Punjab.

These men were in effect allied to the British Raj, a state that had subjected their land to more than 50 years of colonial repression. Yet they participated in both major wars and performed outstanding acts of gallantry.

The Great War 1914-18

By Armistice Day, 11th November 1918, 1.3 million Indian troops had volunteered to join the British Indian Army. They fought the Central Powers in every major battle arena from the Western Front to Gallipoli. Most Indian soldiers served in Mesopotamia and Africa. This allowed British and dominion forces to concentrate on the Western Front.

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Filed under: History
10th October, 2010

The East India Company today

by Rumbold at 8:39 pm    

Reading the Sunday Times Money section, I was surprised to learn that not only is the East India Company still trading, but that it is owned by an British-based Indian, Sanjiv Mehta. Mr Mehta bought the rights to the name in February, and currently runs the East India Company as a shop selling luxury items.

Mr Mehta claims to have bought the name in part because of brand awareness- according to one survey over two billion people had heard of the East India Company. Given its involvement in, amongst others things, the 1770 Bengal famine (millions dead) and the opium trade, I am not so sure it is a particularly good brand to have. Nevertheless, it does bring to mind the old adage about India ultimately absorbing its conquerors.

Filed under: Economy,History
30th September, 2010

Ayodhya ruling sees site shared between Muslims and Hindus

by Rumbold at 3:00 pm    

Ayodhya, the site of communal violence in 1992 when Hindu extremists destroyed a 16th century mosque, has been under a heavy security presence in the last few days in anticipation of today’s court announcement, which saw the site divided between Hindus and Muslims. Before 1992, the site had long been a focus for Hindu extremists, who alleged that the Mughal emperor Babur had destroyed a temple on the site. The destruction and ensuring riots also helped to galvanise the BJP. The site is especially important since it is considered to be the birthplace of Lord Ram:

A court in India has said that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims, lawyers for the Hindu petitioners say. However in a majority verdict, judges gave control of the main disputed section, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus, lawyers said. Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and a Hindu sect. The destruction of the mosque by Hindu extremists led to widespread rioting in which some 2,000 people died.

No ruling was ever going to be welcomed by all sides (both sides are likely to appeal). Nore is there an easy answer. We know Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, but how far back does one go (if indeed Babur destroyed a temple)? Who holds the ‘rights’ to the site? Does one destruction cancel out another one? Does the site’s relative holiness to either religion have any bearing?

15th September, 2010

American church in Memphis welcomes neighbouring Islamic Centre

by Jai at 11:45 am    

As is now known worldwide, there has been a huge amount of publicity about the now-cancelled “Quran-burning” by Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida who not only attempted to link his own anti-Islam agenda to the ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” issue involving Park51/Cordoba House in New York, but also views Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism as being literally “from the Devil”. In fact, if he’d wanted to “send a message to radical Islam” as he’d claimed, it would have made far more sense for him to burn a bonfire of photos of Osama bin Laden instead. It’s also worth remembering that by far the largest numbers of victims of Islamist militants have actually been ordinary Muslims; tens of thousands have been killed during the past decade alone.

In relation to the Quran-burning issue in particular, Pickled Politics recently discussed the inordinate weight that many sections of the mainstream media have given to the extremists on all sides; the need for moderates everywhere to oppose the latter has also been emphasised by the Sufi Imam Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative. Readers may also be interested to hear that Imam Rauf was interviewed at great length by CNN last week, and a wide range of relevant issues were discussed in considerable detail (full transcript here).

There are some horribly ironic facts in this situation: Not only has Imam Rauf been actively assisting the US Government with anti-Islamist-extremism efforts for a number of years (both the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration), but Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban actually violently hate Sufi Muslims, because they regard Sufis as “heretics” who are “excessively liberal” and “excessively benevolent” towards non-Muslims. Therefore, we now have Sufis being persecuted by fundamentalist Christians, the American “conservative Right”, and militant Islamist extremists, aided and abetted by Fox News and their allies in the Republican Party.

However, a more encouraging development in America which has unfortunately received comparatively little publicity is the following: During the course of the past year, members of a church in Memphis, Tennessee, have gone out of their way to welcome the presence of a neighbouring Islamic Centre which is in the process of being built. This has very recently been covered by CNN and MSNBC as a positive counterexample to the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry in other sections of American society.

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21st August, 2010

The “Ground Zero Mosque”: Ignorance, Prejudice and Historical Precedents – Part 2

by Jai at 7:00 pm    

(This article is an immediate continuation of Part 1. Readers are therefore strongly advised to read that part first before continuing below).

Indian history and “the Sikh 9/11”

Firstly, during India’s “Great Mughal” era, the 6th Sikh Guru actually had a mosque built for the ordinary Muslims who had settled in the town he had founded in Punjab – despite the fact that his own father had been severely tortured over a period of several days upon the orders of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and ultimately died of his horrific injuries. In fact, that same mosque was very recently jointly renovated by Sikh and Muslim volunteers in India as part of a major restoration project. There are even mosques in Amritsar itself, the “holy city” of the Sikhs. It’s certainly a far cry from Newt Gingrich’s “no mosques until there are churches in Saudi Arabia” rhetoric, given that he’s effectively recommending that the United States should duplicate fundamentalist Wahhabi Saudi Arabian attitudes towards places of worship; furthermore, the notion of holding your own country’s citizens hostage to – and penalising them for – the actions of a foreign government because they happen to be affiliated with superficially the same religion (despite being from very different “denominations”) isn’t just irrational and barbaric, it’s also morally bankrupt.

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19th August, 2010

The “Ground Zero Mosque”: Ignorance, Prejudice and Historical Precedents – Part 1

by Jai at 7:15 pm    

“It is rash to condemn where you are ignorant.”

Much has recently been said about the proposed Cordoba House facility in New York, dubbed the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. As is now widely known, CNN anchor and Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria returned his award to the ADL and explained his rationale extremely well (he’s subsequently also summarised Sufism and the reasons for Al-Qaeda’s hatred of it); Alex Massie also recently discussed the issue and made a number of brilliant points. This article in the New York Times by the acclaimed historian William Dalrymple about the Cordoba Initiative’s Sufi connection is excellent too, as is this article by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. This segment from MSNBC by Keith Olbermann forcefully argues against the escalating bigotry towards Muslims and also discusses the potential ramifications for America if these attitudes are allowed to continue. US President Barack Obama himself has now emphatically voiced his support for the right of the founders of Cordoba House to build the proposed centre (also see here). Even Christopher Hitchens has been demolishing the arguments of many of the people opposed to Cordoba House (including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin) and has condemned their sectarian prejudice and often staggering level of ignorance. The quote at the top of this paragraph by the Roman philosopher Seneca clearly still has great resonance 2000 years later; coincidentally, the great man was born in Cordoba himself.

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1st August, 2010

Nirpal Dhaliwal the ‘historian’ celebrates Britain’s colonisation of India

by Sunny at 6:56 pm    

Nirpal Dhaliwal, the man (and I use this term loosely) who once wrote such a crap review of Gautam Malkani’s Londonstani that we had to eviscerate it. The Evening Standard eventually got someone else to review it.

He has now written an article for the Daily Mail titled: Britain has no need to make an apology to India for Empire…

I won’t go into too much detail into why this is absolute horseshit. Though, in the comments of that article, PP contributor Jai has already torn him apart.

1. Dhaliwal claims: “After 800 years of Mughal rule…”

Jai: Completely false. The Mughals only arrived in India in the late 15th century, via Babur, the first Mughal emperor. And he was from the region now called Uzbekistan.

Due to the frequent intermarriages with Hindu Rajput royalty which the Mughals subsequently engaged in, within a couple of generations they had become heavily “Indianised” both culturally and “ethnically”. This became so prevalent that in terms of his specific ancestry, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) was actually ¾ Rajput. They were certainly not “foreigners” by this time, by any stretch of the imagination.

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15th July, 2010

America, Christians, and Religious Extremism

by Jai at 9:30 pm    

There is a view in some quarters, including here in the UK, that modern-day Western societies are free of some of the caricatures often associated with some non-Western cultures; in recent times, negative comparisons have been drawn with Islam and Muslims in particular.

Similarly, there are uninformed arguments being made that, whilst – for example – it would be highly inaccurate to assert that the most ultraconservative, tyrannical and bigoted historical versions of Catholicism or some of the more fanatical and regressive versions of Christianity in general prevalent in some parts of the United States should be extrapolated to stereotype & denigrate Christianity and its diverse followers all over the rest of the world, Islam and Muslims do not demonstrate the same level of diversity either in the modern day or historically. The logic (not to mention the gross ignorance) of claiming that one particular religion and its followers encompass the spectrum of interpretations from liberalism & moderation to the ultraconservative opposite extreme, and that other religions and their followers do not, is patently faulty.

Matthew Harwood has recently written an excellent article for Comment is Free on the Guardian demonstrating this perfectly, titled ”America’s Paranoid Religious Right”. He specifically discusses the ‘Call 2 Fall’ movement in the United States. A few extracts, as follows:

The Call 2 Fall movement captures the mood among Christian nationalists – that God is punishing America for its sinful ways.

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19th June, 2010

Anupam Kher pulls out of Bollywood Hitler film

by Rumbold at 2:14 pm    

Anupam Kher, who was due to play Hitler in a Bollywood film showing the dictator’s ‘love for India’, has pulled out of the main role after an adverse public reaction:

The project drew protests from Jewish groups in India and outside and was condemned by historians.

“Thanks for your varied reactions to my opting out of Hitler. After 400 films in 26 years I have the right to be wrong and still be happy,” the actor wrote on Twitter.

In a statement to news agency Reuters, Mr Kher said: “Considering the ill-will that the project is generating among my fans, I wish to withdraw from it as I respect their sentiments.”

The problem with the film is that it is completely inaccurate historically (even more so than Braveheart), which Anupam Kher doesn’t seem to have understood. What this film has done though is (unintentionally) taught a number of people about Hitler’s attitudes to India, which they might not have been aware of beforehand. To quote Alex von Tunzelmann once again:

Hitler never supported Indian self-rule. He advised British politicians to shoot Gandhi and hundreds of other leaders of the freedom struggle. Repeatedly, he expressed support for British imperialism. He only regretted that it was not harsh enough. “If we took India,” he once threatened, the Indian people would soon long for “the good old days of English rule”.

Filed under: Culture,History,India
13th June, 2010

Hitler goes to Bollywood

by Rumbold at 4:16 pm    

Alex von Tunzelmann reports on the news that an Indian film director is planning to make a film about Hitler, with Anupam Kher (best known to Western audiences as the dad from ‘Bend it Like Beckham’) as Adolf. It is billed as a serious film (which, given the possibilities of song and dance numbers, is quite a shame), and is titled ‘Dear Friend Hitler’. The director chose the title because of Hitler’s alleged fondness for India and his role in helping to end British rule of India. That Hitler was a friend of India is historically illiterate. As Alex points out:

Hitler never supported Indian self-rule. He advised British politicians to shoot Gandhi and hundreds of other leaders of the freedom struggle. Repeatedly, he expressed support for British imperialism. He only regretted that it was not harsh enough. “If we took India,” he once threatened, the Indian people would soon long for “the good old days of English rule”.

The second world war did fatally weaken Britain’s grip on her empire, but it was America who pressed the moral case for it to be dismembered, not Germany. The director was also swayed by Hitler’s alliance with Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, which worked with the Japanese forces in an attempt to invade the then British-ruled India:

In fact, the Nazi regime’s disgust when Bose became romantically involved with a German woman revealed its true feelings. Hitler was happy to let Bose’s recruits die fighting the British. But he never stopped believing that Indian people were racially inferior to white Europeans, and that any attempt at Indian independence would inevitably lead to reconquest by a “superior” race.


(Hat-Tip: KJB)

Filed under: Culture,History,India
31st May, 2010

Rock and Roll Jihad

by Jai at 12:51 pm    

”Follow the music and it will show you the way.”

As discussed in my previous article ”The Music of Unity and the Politics of Division”, music can be a very powerful medium to overcome boundaries between different groups of people and convey the humanitarian message by the sheer emotional force of the music itself.

In religious terms, this is also a concept integral to Sikhism, most mainstream South Asian versions of Sufi Islam, and many devotional versions of Hinduism. The famous 13th century Persian Sufi Rumi eloquently summarised it: “Follow the music and it will show you the way”.

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