State of ban is bane of state
The link between repressive regimes and banning of information — the new currency of social, economic, political and religious interactions — is tyrannical at worst, fragile at best. After China’s sieving information through Google to suit its totalitarian masters such that its people do not get access to information that could affect them and their opinions, it is now the turn of its nuclear neighbour Pakistan, the new hub of global terror. By banning Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Blackberry for its statistically-insignificant 2.5 million users, this Islamic country is mixing religious identity with national identity.
At a time when the forces of globalisation — in cultures, relationships, ideas, finance, business, economic growth, mass media, and the sheer force of greater opportunities for individual expression — are encouraging peoples, races, religions and nations to move towards a singular harmony from where they will sing their individual songs, Pakistan’s ban is the crude sledge hammer of a barbarian, who understands brute force but little else. The better way would have been to let Pakistani Facebook users respond and the state not get involved.
I can understand if a religious leader or group encouraged this ban that began with a Facebook user asking for drawings of Prophet Mohammed. Such drawings are against Islam and even though I disagree with any assault on freedom of speech (including the right to criticise religions), its perverted logic can stand. These leaders have a fig leaf of moral authority to do so. As self-appointed guardians of religion and the followers, they have the right to demand, foolishly, such bans on books, films, theatre performances, art shows, writers and now websites. We have seen such nonsensical demands in all religions, so let us not begin a mass-condemnation of Islam.
The issue I raise is different. When a nation ventures into this territory of bans and identifies with a particular religion, it raises uncomfortable credibility-destroying questions. The case of Pakistan, a country that has used terrorism as a state policy against India — and Indian Muslims — as well as the rest of the world, is particularly weak.
Here’s a nation that not only revels in the cowardly killing of innocent citizens across the world by sponsoring and nurturing terror, it treats religious minorities in the country in a disgraceful and violent manner. It doesn’t even spare children — even as the Pakistani state was busy closing down Facebook and Youtube, Muslim teachers at a girls’ school in Sargodha (Pakistan) ridiculed Christian students for their faith, beat them up, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms and classrooms after class hours.
So far, Pakistan has been getting away by saying that it is not the country that is indulging in terror, only some “non-state actors” who have nothing to do with the country’s foreign policy or its government are. But when Pakistan aligns its state policy with its religious policy, it will need to accept the religious deviants of the nation as state actors as well. Whoever is behind this decision is clearly an illiterate and needs training in not only basic technology but also in basic government policy. Pakistan needs to send him to school and un-ban Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blackberry.
An Imam leads religious harmony
An under-reported news item last week showed me that despite the over-reported tension between Hindus and Muslims in India, there’s hope for harmony at the top of both these religions. “Religious leaders from both Hindu and Muslim community came together in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city to promote communal harmony and peace,” the report stated. “The event to promote communal solidarity was organized by the All India Organization of Imams of Mosques (AIOIM).”
Intrigued, I contacted Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, who had organised the meet. In his large but modest living room in the centre of a roundabout on Kasturba Gandhi Marg, he looked as fresh as I was at 10.30 pm, after finishing my edition. Recently elected president of AIOIM, Ilyasi said he has been visiting — and will continue to visit — all the 550,000 member mosques across the country.
A good idea, I said.
“But wherever I go, I will try and get the Imams to meet not just me but Hindu leaders as well,” he told me over a glass of water, adjusting his skull cap, stroking his salt and pepper beard. The Ahmedabad meet saw Jagat Guru Shankracharya representing Kashi Kochi peeth and Chidanand Maharaj from Rishikesh. “We need more of such meetings that promote communal harmony.”
I couldn’t agree more. More power to his organisation.
Talking about skull caps, my experiment yielded no results. That is, nobody said anything adverse. Nobody raised an eyebrow. The occasional extra glance, if any, came from the wealthy, sitting behind their drivers in large air conditioned cars. Beyond that, nothing. Maybe I didn’t go to fiery, communally sensitive places. It is too hot, so I did not take my usual post-lunch walks around my office in Central Delhi. Even Ilyasi, who saw me wearing it, only nodded his satisfaction.
That leaves me with little to report on my adventures with the skull cap. But in case you are interested, this is how I looked.
Religion this week
Beginning this week, I am starting a new tailpiece to my post, where I will track religion news on the web that I find interesting. Feel free to email me stories that you like:
Dalai Lama, In New York, Preaches A Sunny Gospel
A physicist finds God in cosmic harmonies
Saudi Woman Slugs Virtue Cop
Book review: ‘God Is Not One,’ by Stephen Prothero
Muslim rocker on his ‘jihad’ against extremists
Catholic school won’t admit lesbians’ son