Friday, January 28, 2005

Confounding Patriotism and Bigotry in Post 9/11 America

A patriot is "one who loves, supports, and defends one's country." A bigot, on the other hand, is "one who is strongly partial to one's own group religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ," says the American Heritage dictionary. The difference between the two is obvious and enormous: Patriotism is borne out of love and generosity towards the country to which a person belongs, while bigotry is borne out of hate and a mean-spirited attitude towards those who are different.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Making Sense of the Tsunami Disaster

When calamity afflicts people they often ask: why? When the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster caused death and destruction, people asked why? "Why did you do this, God?" was the title of an article dispatched by Reuter on December 30, 2004.

"This is an expression of God's great ire with the world," said Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar. "The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude," was the answer of Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a priest of New Delhi's Birla Hindu temple. Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia's Islamic Party, said the disaster was a reminder from God that "he created the world and can destroy the world."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Logic of History and Power

We all have perspectives on the world. Our vantage points-- determined by our social, communal, ethnic, and religious affiliations--influence our views and our perspectives. Our perspectives can be a source of enrichment or devastation. When we respect individuality and recognize each other, our varying vantage points make us see things better, and arrive at better answers and solutions. But when we see our differences as a threat, and insist to impose our views by force, distortion, or deception we all end up being losers.

America today faces another critical test as Islam and American Muslims are subjected to repeated episodes of discrimination, demonization, racism, and bigotry. Blacks, Irish, Italians, German, Japanese, East Europeans, Jews, and Catholics had all to go through this ordeal. Now it is the turn of American Muslims.

One would expect that people would learn from history, and realize that racism, bigotry, guilt by association, collective punishment, and profiling are both wrong and counterproductive, and that those who choose these means to win often end up being the losers. But, alas, it is the logic of power and arrogance, rather than the logic of history and rightness, that too often has more grip on human beings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Discrimination and Aggression

It does not take much effort to see that cases of aggression, abuse, and exploitation often emanate from a single pattern: Dividing people into categories, and using the notion of "we are better than them" to justify aggression, exploitation, and violation of human dignity.

Tyrants, racists, and bigots always make sure before they embarked on a campaign of exploitation and abuse that the victims of their aggression are degraded and demonized. The ways of the Pharaoh of divide, degrade, and rule are the ways of all those who exploit differences and use ideology, both religious and secular, to justify claims of superiority. The Qur'an succinctly summarizes the Pharaonic ways: "Truly Pharaoh elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, overpowering one group of them: their sons he slew, but kept alive their females; for he was indeed a maker of mischief." (28:4)