Boobquaked in Tehran, deveiled in Belgium

The last thing Islam needed was to turn itself into a joke that would have been funny had it not been serious. Already under siege over issues ranging from extremism and its anti-women stance, here’s the latest that the global press picked up on one of the religion’s half-crazed leaders’ full-crazed words of wisdom.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader, was quoted as saying by Iranian media in an AP report.

At a time when the image of Islam has been hijacked by extremists and the religion is facing its worst-ever public trial on its views and actions on violence, tolerance and women, the last thing it needed was a self-goal of this sort.

While Sedighi needs to be told to keep his mouth shut, this illiterate, nonsensical and crude display of ignorance sparked great humour last week, as Jen McCreight, a student of genetics and evolution who plans to pursue her PhD in genetics launched Boobquake.

In the name of science, I offer my boobs,” she said on her blog. “On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female sceptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts.”

She even offered other options of immodesty: “Or short shorts, if that’s your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it’ll be one involving plate tectonics.”

The interesting bit is not that a student poked fun at this repugnant analysis of an ignorant or wrote an interesting piece in Guardian. It is the way the idea gained strength — across the world, people are enjoying themselves — on Facebook, on Youtube, on Twitter (with more followers than me), on varied blogs. Including aftershocks, like this hilarious piece.

It’s time the true leaders of Islam told the religion’s publicity-seeking imbeciles to keep their perverted ideas to themselves.

But what worries me is not Sedighi’s idiocy. It is Belgium’s decision to ban the veil.

“Legislators in Belgium voted almost unanimously to ban full face coverings for Muslim women on Thursday,” a news report stated. “While women will still be allowed to wear the hijab, which only covers their hair, in public places the veil ban will forbid them from wearing any veil or scarf that covers their face and stops them from being identified.” If a woman violates this law, she will have to pay $20-35 or face a seven-day imprisonment.

I think while nations have the right to decide what they want to do, this is as regressive as the regression Belgium proposes to do away with. I believe this action violates religious expression of Muslim women. “The obligation to combat discrimination cannot be fulfilled by imposing a measure that is itself discriminatory,” said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International.

The way I see it, both the mullahs who enforce the veil on Muslim women and governments (in Belgium today but could be France, then Germany and the rest of Europe) who enforce its prevention are guilty of treating women as beasts, not human beings who have a voice, a choice. If the modernised West accuses Islam of being backward, this action of coercion is no different.

The issue is not about “freeing women from the tyranny of the veil” as some proponents are wrongly thinking. The issue is about giving Muslim women the right to choose to wear — or not to wear — the veil. The fact that in Islamic nations they are forced to wear them is incidental. Equally incidental is the fact that “basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam” in Saudi Arabia. For more on the pathetic state of religious freedom in this country, read this report by the US State Department.

Or read this story in the Islamic state Pakistan: “Local authorities on Monday recovered a 14-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) police who allegedly tortured her and her family for five days here as Christian ’soft targets’ over false theft allegations, sources said.”

Or this story in Malawi: “Muslims in Malawi have been angered by government plans to ban polygamy. A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Malawi told the BBC … with about 6 per cent more women than men in Malawi, if polygamy were banned, many women would be left without a husband and become prostitutes.”

I could go on — there is enough about the public face of Islam that fills me up with revulsion. Not being able to practice any religion other than Islam in many Islamic nations, for instance. Outright destruction of anything non-Islamic, for another instance. These have unfortunately become the untrue but very real and ugly face of Islam.

But coming back to the point, my fear is that religious fundamentalism can go to any lengths — crude or sophisticated may be its face, but its soul is always dark. Today it’s Muslim veils. Tomorrow it could be Christian crosses. Hindu idols could be next. And Buddhist statues would follow. One country after another, this list can grow and grow and grow.

Dogmatism, in any form, must be rejected. I wrote a related piece on the dogmatism of free market worshippers here and the underlying thought is no different.

I have kept the best for last. Until last Saturday, I thought driving a bike was just that: driving a bike. An exercise that takes you from point A to point B, through a mix of gears, acceleration, wheels and brakes.

But on May 1, when prodded by the children in our family, when I got to ride the Harley Davidson for the first time, I finally understood and lived the culture — and the religion — of what these super-expensive, super-sexy bikes stand for.

It is tough — you can feel it as your shin brushes the foot stand. It is powerful — you can feel it when you hold the clutch and pump up the acceleration. And it is outrageous — at Rs 7.5 lakh, I was driving a bike that is more than the cost of my car (and if you find that expensive, try the Rs 35 lakh two-wheeled house called CVO).

I drove the Roadster. It was the best two-wheeled ride of my life. In the short distance of about 3 km on Delhi’s roads that make you feel vulnerable when you ride a bike in that city after 12 years, the drive filled me with freedom. Despite its heaviness, I found the balance amazingly steady.

If you have money in your pocket, strength in your arms, freedom in your heart, and are 40-plus wanting to feel 18 again Harley Davidson is your religion.

Yes, that's me on the Roadster

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