Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ground Zero and Religious Tolerance

A question from a Washington Post/ABC Opinion Poll in USA

There has been news lately about plans for a Muslim community center and place of worship in Lower Manhattan, near the site of the former World Trade Center. Do you yourself think this Muslim community center should or should not be built at this location? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?

--------- Should --------               ------ Should not -------       

NET Strongly Somewhat            NET Somewhat Strongly

 29%       14          15                            66%           13       53         

As per the answer to the above opinion poll question a large majority of US citizens think that there should not be Muslim center of worship in Lower Manhattan in New York.
Very strange indeed to see such intolerance from the citizens of a Nation which swears by the Bill of Rights in their Constitution which allows freedom of practice of  all religions

THE “ground zero mosque,”  is not at ground zero. It’s not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room.
There are many mosques and Muslim prayer rooms in Lower Manhattan. Now will they want to ban all such places?

Fortunately many sane voices of US citizens could be heard clearly above the din caused by hate-mongers.

"It is my hope that this will help to bring our city even closer together, and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam," said Bloomberg. "Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith - and they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group
New York City Mayor Bloomberg

There has been a mosque on Warren St., a stone's throw from Ground Zero, since 1970, the year the World Trade Center opened. It draws 1,000 worshipers each Friday, according to the group's website, today's complainers now want to expel Masjid Manhattan?

 For that matter, I wonder why they haven't said a word about New York Dolls, a strip club that's as close to Ground Zero as the proposed Park51 center.
The nightly boozing and lap dances do not seem to have disturbed the sensibilities of those now earnestly defending the sacred ground near the World Trade Center site.
For that matter, I wonder why they haven't objected to the space inside the Pentagon where Muslim prayer, holiday celebrations and readings of the Koran have gone on for nearly a decade.
Errol Louis in NY Daily News

The ginned-up rage over the “ground zero mosque” was not motivated by a serious desire to protect America from the real threat of terrorists lurking at home and abroad — a threat this furor has in all likelihood exacerbated — but by the potential short-term rewards of winning votes by pandering to fear during an election season. Their sudden concern for ground zero is suspect to those of us who actually live in New York. All but 12 Republicans in the House voted against health benefits for 9/11 responders just last month.
Frank Rich in NewYork Times

Most important support for the proposed Islamic cultural center came from   Donna Marsh O'Connor
National Spokesperson, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

She wrote in Huffington Post

On Wednesday, the 25th of August I spoke at a press conference organized by a group called New York Neighbors for American Values in favor of the building of an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks away and around the corner from, as it has come to be called, Ground Zero. Ground Zero. Ground Zero. No matter how many times I say it, it doesn't lose meaning. Instead, it accrues meaning. It is the place where my pregnant daughter Vanessa Lang Langer was murdered.

However, as we approach the 9th anniversary of the day I and the thousands of others who lost loved ones to a gang of mass murders will not be able to simply mourn the loss of our children, parents, cousins and siblings. Because until something in our public imagination displaces it, 9/11 will be a political football in the debate over the Islamic Center. Central to this debate, it seems, is the question of what constitutes "sensitivity" to 9/11 families
And, in a heated elections season, some elected officials and candidates  have seized an opportunity to play on our collective fears in order to use 9/11/2001 for political gain. In nine years this has been the habit of our so-called leaders.

To them I ask this: what about the sensitivities of families like mine and hundreds of others who join me in supporting the Islamic Center? Are our loved ones somehow less worthy than those of family members who oppose its construction?
 I am sensitive to what I believe is a threat to religious freedom, to the First Amendment, to our hallowed Constitution. I am sensitive to the notion that, in the name of my daughter, an entire religion is being demonized for the acts of a group of heinous criminals.

Today, at the end of summer, when much of the thickness of the collective air loses its oppressive moisture, when the sun is still bright in the late summer sky, and the air is crisp though still warm, our televisions, our elected officials and candidates for office cannot fail but to remind us of the towers falling in endless clouds of grey matter. They exploit mercilessly our emotions. They use and have used these images to amplify the fears we feel, not of the criminal acts, but of Muslim people.

Here then is my message: if you really care about 9/11 families and their collective sensitivities please leave us to our memories and our pain and stop fanning the flames of hatred and intolerance - to me that would be an act of supreme sensitivity

Let us hope that  such words of maturity and compassion will always prevail in this World.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Prof T.J.Joseph should be pardoned

A teacher of Newman College, Thodupuzha, in Idukki district of Kerala, who was attacked by extremist elements in July on the accusation that he had hurt religious sentiments by setting a question paper with certain blasphemous sentences, was dismissed from service by the college management on Saturday.

T.J. Joseph, who was the head of the college's Malayalam Department, had two more years of service.

The management had suspended him from service in March when the question paper set for an internal examination for B.Com. students created a controversy. A few organisations took to the streets in Thodupuzha and curfew was imposed in the town.

The radical activists, reportedly owing allegiance to the Popular Front of India (PFI), waylaid his car as he was returning home from church, hacked him and chopped off his right palm

The dismissal attracted widespread condemnation in the State. In a statement, six intellectuals, led by poet O.N.V. Kurup, said the teacher had already been harassed for a lapse which took place owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. If it had shocked democratic Kerala, his dismissal was as cruel and inhuman as the chopping off of his hand.

He hoped that the teacher would get the sympathetic support of everyone with conscience.

Other signatories to the statement are K.N .Panikkar, historian, Ninan Koshy, thinker, and the writers U.A. Khadar, P. Valsala and George Onakkkur
from The Hindu

Prof T.J.Joseph has been teaching Malayalam for last 25 years.He was never a controversial figure till March 2010. He had never indulged in activities which can be termed as against or for any particular religion.He drafted a question paper for his 32 students of BCom class. Some thought a question in that paper is hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.That was his 'fault'. As ONV Kurup and other Intellectuals said it can be termed as owing to his carelessness, ignorance or lack of adequate forethought. He had apologised for it.

 But how did a DTP printed 32 copy question paper came to be printed in large scale and distributed in mosques and educational institutions?
 If you find something derogatory to your religion, will you print it in large scale and give it more publicity? Yes one will do it if one wants to get maximum political/religious mileage out of it.
Communalists are always in search of issues for hate/victim hood campaigns. Such issues are their fuel and they will try to give maximum publicity to it.But in this issue of Prof T.J Joseph my feeling is many secularists also fell into the trap laid by communalists.Without looking deep into the matter many were accusing Prof Joseph of deliberate mischief. In an article in the new issue of Mathrubhoomi weekly Prof Joseph has explained in detail how the question came into being.His explanations are reasonable for any secular minded person.
Prof Joseph's mistake was lack of adequate forethought.He can and should be pardoned. Let us hope that saner voices from Muslim community will be brave enough to rise against fundamentalist/communalist ideologies and pardon Prof Joseph accepting his apology.
If we allow the communal organisations to dictate terms in Kerala civil society, our cultural atmosphere may soon resemble that of Arabian Gulf States or Gujarat.