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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dunno about God, but Tolerance is certainly dead!

"God is dead" proclaimed Nietzsche's words, in blazing red, across an all-black cover of Time magazine. But its offices were neither set ablaze nor its editorial staff threatened by fuming members of the 'religious right' (an oxymoron par excellence!). And this happened at a time when the political muzzling of dissenting youth, under a deceitful President, Richard Nixon, and a venomously vengeful FBI Chief, J, Edgar Hoover, raged on in a USA that turned a blind eye to social injustices against people of colour in its Bible Belt.

"Nietzsche is dead!" proclaimed a humourous postcard 'signed' by 'God'! Displayed frequently by religious students in their college dorms (and one that can still be seen on the pinboard at T2F if you are in Karachi), it was considered funny, even by the agnostic-atheist-leftist kids on campus, including the few among them who were almost evangelist-style preachers of atheism.

The same period also gave rise to flower-children and hippies, triggering in the young a more than passing interest in mysticism - from sufism to transcendental meditation. Tolerance, among the majority of people, was King! Today, it is either dead, or a mere zombie, propped up by the occasional administration of artificial respiration in the form of politically correct statements and shallow slogans.

Those who claim that their own religion is the only right path, support calls for interfaith dialogues and denounce religious extremism, while fanning the flames of denominational and sectarian hatred from pulpits. And the most self-righteous among them dole out even stranger messages: Preacher Pat Robertson, a presidential candidate in the 1988 US elections, described Feminism as a "socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practise witchcraft and become lesbians". He was again in the news, when he recently suggested that USA "take out" (a CIA-FBI euphemism for 'kill') Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, because of the latter's anti-US stand.

Following the 9/11 and the Tsunami disasters, such religio-sadistic preachers everywhere (often with a slightly perceptible hint of gloating) reminded us that these calamities, whether man-made or unleashed by forces of nature, were Divine Retribution against a sinful populace.
Televangelist, Jerry Falwell, commented that the 9/11 attacks were punishment for America's preponderance of "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal organisations".

"There is one reason: they lied, they sinned, and were infidels. Whoever studies the Koran can see this is the result", said Ibrahim Al-Bashar, an advisor to Saudi Arabia's Justice Minister, referring to the Tsunami deaths.
And now, with Katrina, having caused extensive damage to one of my favourite places in the USA, New Orleans - the birthplace of Jazz, we have yet another pronouncement from a self-proclaimed pulpit of righteousness: Repent America. Its website states:
"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. "From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence', New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge," he continued.

"We must help and pray for those ravaged by this disaster, but let us not forget that the citizens of New Orleans tolerated and welcomed the wickedness in their city for so long," Marcavage said. "May this act of God cause us all to think about what we tolerate in our city limits, and bring us trembling before the throne of Almighty God," Marcavage concluded.

Pre-empting those who are likely to ask, "What of the innocent victims, the infants and the infirm, who surely cannot have been guilty of the wickedness?", the webpage provides an answer: "[God] sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)

When tragedy struck the Twin Towers, we were told of the rejoicing in what one TV commentator referred to as "fundamentalist Muslim territories" (he, obviously, uses a world map colour-coded differently from mine). Although some of the images shown, on at least one major news service, are now known to have been 'doctored' or 'falsely connected' to this event, there is no denying that such a reaction did occur in small pockets. However, these disgusting displays were certainly not limited to the Muslim world alone; they also took place in many predominantly (and, often devoutly) Christian countries, such as Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Argentina, and even Greece (where a crowd of football fans vociferously refused to observe a 2-minute silence for the victims).

How anyone could rejoice at, or even be indifferent to, the deaths of innocent people is a question that has no acceptable answers. But it does make one wonder why those, who claim "God is Love", despise, with such intensity, their own deity's creations?

These moral-high-ground approaches, almost always aided by religious fanaticism or nationalism, are not much different from (and, very possibly, the source of) other instances of warped logic: The justification, in the minds of seemingly sane people, who conclude that, through a certain mode of dress or behaviour, a rape victim 'was asking for it', is one such example. Another example, more specific, that comes to mind is the case of a nurse raped by a doctor in a Karachi hospital years ago. The 'learned' judge, upon hearing that the nurse had had consensual sex with a boy-friend on previous occasions, opined that she could hardly bring charges against this doctor because "she was habituated to sex".

For me, one of the worst instances of intolerance occurred when a dear friend (and her 6-month old baby), who had been staying with us during her husband's long but terminal illness, was flying to Nepal, accompanying the dead body of her husband. All on board perished in an aircrash that devastated many families. A 13-year-old girl from next-door, who was deeply affected by this, tearfully told her classmates of her attachment to the baby. She was stopped from crying by her Islamiyaat teacher, who then proceeded to tell the class that this was God's way of punishing our friend because she had married outside her own religion. [As for the baby, and the scores of others who died in the crash, I guess it was just another divine instance of raining "on the just and on the unjust."]

To those who behave this way, I can only pass on Asimov's advice: Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right!

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Anonymous Ragni Kidvai said...

Miles and miles away from you, it is your posts that make me feel like we're still connected. I love how you write, and the content of this piece touched on me on so many levels. Being back in the US, discussing race, religion, Katrina and just having heard Elaine Brown speak, your piece was definitely well-timed.

I don't know if requesting you to write about something in particular makes any sense, but I would love to hear, in your words, something about Katrina & the racial/class implications of the US government's slow action.

Apart from that, when are you publishing that book again?

04 September, 2005 19:44

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hej Zak

Dette var godt. Bliv ved med at skrive da, det du skriver er saa rammende.


05 September, 2005 10:45

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Cunning Linguist Aslam Sharif has translated this for me. He says, "It means: This was good, keep writing, for what you write is so on target."

08 September, 2005 12:33


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