Category Archives: Religion

Abbott ratchets up the fear factor to boost poll standings

When a prime minister has discovered that only one tactic — ratcheting up the fear factor — helps to boost his poll numbers, and his poll standing is desperately low, what does he do?

Tony Abbott has made a profession of demonising asylum-seekers and Muslims and pretending that the world faces an existential threat from the terrorist Islamic State group.

In recent times Abbott has gone back to similar tactics. First, he engineered a “request” from the US, for Australia to join in air strikes on Syria.
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Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
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Australia: Muslims not welcome here

THE brilliant American comedian Dave Chappelle often refers to himself as a connoisseur of racism. A keen observer of the way in which people of colour are discriminated against in the US, Chappelle is quick to use his observations in his stand-up routines.

He would certainly find plenty of material in Australia. The rich vein of racism that flows through the country is for the most part unnoticed. It is considered normal, a part of everyday life. But from time to time, we are reassured that when it comes to racism, Australia is in the front ranks.

A day back, Australia’s first Muslim member of federal parliament, Ed Husic, was promoted to the front bench. He, naturally, took his oath of office on the book of his faith, the Quran. Only a rank idiot would expect him to swear on the Bible, or the Gita or the Torah, given that these texts have no significance to him.
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Evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka

BRITAIN’S Channel 4 television screened a remarkable programme on Tuesday, the 14th of June, one that nobody would expect to see in a Western country.

Graphic evidence of war crimes by the Sri Lankan military and the militant group, the Tamil Tigers, during the war that led to the elimination of the Tigers in 2008-09, was screened from 11.05pm in a programme titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The programme is not for the squeamish or those who cannot bear to see what actually happens in a war. This was a war fought between sides which were not equal – as the programme shows the military had heavy hardware and was prepared to use it. All Tamils were treated as terrorists and they were fair game. Indeed, the military gathered them together in so-called no-fire zones and then killed them.

Hospitals were shelled despite the fact that their coordinates had been provided to both sides of the conflict by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Children, old women, the feeble, the sick, pregnant women, aged men – they all served as cannon fodder for the bloodthirsty Sri Lankan military.

The government had given the military carte blanche as far as the war was concerned; they did not have go fight with one arm tied behind them. This led, in the end, to soldiers killing civilians in cold blood and collecting video footage as grotesque war souvenirs. Women were raped and then killed. Half-dead corpses were thrown around like sacks of potatoes.

The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon visited some of the government camps where those Tamil civilians who survived were interned. He stayed a few minutes and then moved on. In April, the UN produced a damning report wherein it cited plenty of evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the government and the Tigers. Ban Ki-moon has refused to act on that report – he says he has no authority to do so. Doubtless, he is also conscious of the fact that with the end of his term looming, his chances of re-election will depend on having China on-side. Beijing has been Sri Lanka’s ally during the war and after; weapons were supplied to Colombo and in return a $2 billion contract to build a port and naval base in the Hambantota district, from where the president, Mahinda Rajapakse hails, went China’s way.

China, of course, is not the only country to help Sri Lanka in this manner. Israel supplied Kfir fighter jets and India provided intelligence to help Colombo destroy Tiger re-supply craft which were being used to replenish the militants’ weapons stocks. In their time of need, the Tigers found no country willing to help.

Now it remains to be seen whether there will be any action by the so-called international community. My guess is that nothing will happen. The US has shown no interest in speaking out about the atrocities and if it stays silent, every other country will hold its peace.

But unless justice is seen to be done, the situation will continue to simmer. Tamils will leave Sri Lanka in increasing numbers but there will be anger and hurt in the community which will resurface some time or the other. By going after the Tigers and ending the 26-year insurrection, the Sri Lankan government has, metaphorically speaking, sown the wind. They may well end up reaping the whirlwind.

The West wants one thing in Libya: stability aka regular oil supplies

LIBYA is in turmoil and it looks like the forces of the madman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi are slowly retaking city by city from those who rose up in protest against a despot.

For more than 40 years, Gaddafi has done what he liked with the oil income from one of the world’s major producers. Nobody was bothered about democracy or any damn ‘cracy for that matter as long as the spigots were open, the oil was flowing and Westerners could line up at the bowser and fill their tanks with cheap oil.

Now that equilibrium has been disturbed, Oil prices are up – though undoubtedly a good deal of the price rise is due to speculation in the US. Americans will not act on this though; they prefer to blame external factors. It is much more convenient to look at the mote in someone else’s eye than the beam in one’s own eye.

By the time there is any movement on a no-fly zone to protect civilians who are trying to take their county back, it will be too late. Gaddafi will be back on his throne, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people will be lying in the streets and the oil prices in Britain will be back to what they were before the Libyans started their quest for freedom.

But then why did anyone expect anything different? In 1991, encouraged by the US which had just finished the job of driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, the people of Iraq started agitating against Saddam Hussein. George the senior encouraged them to rise up. He was riding a wave at that point, and could afford to indulge in bluster about democracy and freedom.

But midway through the protests, George developed cold feet. The US has always had a morbid fear of Iranian fundamentalists controlling any part of the oil-rich Middle East apart from their own little patch of sand after 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and Ayaltollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over.

The strictures on Saddam Hussein flying his own helicopters, put in place by the US in order to prevent him from killing Iraqi civilians, were promptly withdrawn; the old man indulged in the most savage butchery of his own people and regained power. Most importantly, oil supplies regained their old levels and Americans could drive to the bowser and fill up at near normal prices.

Thus, any changes in Libya will be governed by just the one factor – stability. It doesn’t matter how many Libyans die. They are just, to quote Donald “rummy” Rumsfeld, just collateral.

In the rest of the Persian Gulf and the Mideast the same reasoning will be used. Bahrain is the home of the US Fifth Fleet – does one really think that the Americans want to go looking for a new home for those massive ships? Think again.

Perhaps the only country in which the Americans will encourage protesters to continue their activities will be Iran. And that is because of the perceived nuclear threat from Teheran. But there too, any dictator who will agree to submit the nuclear programme for inspection will be acceptable. Oh, and he (it is always a male in Iran) must agree to open the oil spigots as well…

Outsiders and insiders

THE recent spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and other cities in Australia has resulted in the word “racism” figuring in the media quite often. At times, the use of the word is unjustified and some people do tend to go over the top.

But at other times, it is more than justified and if anyone were to say that there is no racial aspect to the savagery, then one could rightly be accused of being disingenuous.

At times, people have sought to bring in some kind of moral equivalence by pointing out that India has a lot of racism within its borders too. That is perfectly correct – there is an institutionalised caste system, Hindus and Muslims fight pitched battles ever so often, and minorities are not exactly accorded their rights.

That, however, does not justify the violence in Australia, a country which has had a long history of exclusion of people based on the colour of their skin.

Apart from the religious factors in India, people do tend to discriminate based on the colour of one’s skin. And it is not merely white people who are resented because of the colonisation of the country by Britain, black people can face problems too. The following tale is drawn from my own experience.

The Madras Christian College, where I studied in the 70s, could well be considered an elite institution. There were three halls for male students and I resided at the Bishop Heber Hall, named after a bishop from Tiruchirapalli. Each hall had its own traditions and practices and at Heber, the seniormost resident was appointed as the “bishop” of the hall each year.

The individual who carried this title had to “baptise” the freshers who joined the hall that year, – dirty pond water was used – after they had gone through three days of initiation. Yes, it was some kind of organised ragging, ostensibly so that the newcomers could learn the hall song and the customs of the college. Plus Heber had something called the Heber yell. And the bishop had to generally lend his experience to hall affairs, whenever needed.

In the mid-70s, there were a couple of Iranians who gained admission to Heber; they refused to take part in the initiation rites and were thereafter excluded from all hall activities. They could not attend the general body sessions, were generally cold-shouldered and had few friends among the residents. They later left the hall.

In 1977, I was the bishop and three Nigerians joined the hall. The initiation days were generally intimated to the newcomers by means of a notice put up near the mess. The three were all pretty well-built chaps, who had done military service in their country, and I suspect that many of my fellow hallmates were afraid to approach them and “rag” them.

The three Nigerians – Princewell, Moses and Lucky – made it clear that they would not be attending the initiation. The first set of juniors was initiated and after this a second set were scheduled for initiation. At this stage, I took it upon myself to visit these three chaps and have a chat with them. I explained to them that they had come to a different country with different customs; though they might find things strange, they needed to join in and become part of the hall community.

I still remember the objection that Princewell raised when I suggested that he and the others join the second batch when they came for initiation: “But, this small boy (referring to one of the hall residents – Princewell was six-feet tall and had a body to match) he ask me to salute him – how can I do it? I serve in the army. I kill people.”

We talked for an hour or two and finally I told them that it was entirely up to them as the process of initiation had no official blessing; it was a tradition of the hall (and indeed the college) and they were free to come and join in. Else they could stay out but in that event, they would not be regarded well by the others who dwelt in the hall.

I was pleasantly surprised when they turned up on time with the second batch of juniors. I grilled them and made sure that they learnt the meaning of the college and hall mottos, the history of the hall, the song and the yell.

But most of the other seniors who turned up to “rag” the juniors were scared to approach the three Nigerians. There was a growing sense of resentment among the senior members of the hall that these three Nigerians were not getting as much ragging as the others. But then these very seniors were funked, they got cold feet when they tried to approach the Nigerians.

On one occasion, Princewell told a senior that he could not understand what he was saying. The senior in question felt it was an insult, as, in his opinion, he was speaking the Queen’s English. As luck would have it, he was one of the Brahmin gang in the hall.

After the three days of ragging were done, the three Nigerians went through the initiation and were formally made members of the hall. But a large section of the residents were angry with me because they felt that the Nigerians had gotten away scot-free. It was their own fear and sense of prejudice that had prevented them going up to these three chaps and ragging them. But now they needed an outlet for their frustrations.

A general session of the hall was requested and the chairman of the hall called for one. (The hall had its own “cabinet” with various secretaries to run the various activities.) A few of the chaps started accusing me of having initiated the Nigerians without their having learnt what they were supposed to learn. This was patently untrue.

I think I annoyed those who were in this camp by pointing out that if the Nigerians had not been ragged “properly”, then it was because people like those who were making accusations against me had not had the guts to come up and rag them. I also pointed out that it was the duty of senior residents like me to ensure that everyone who came to live in the hall became a productive member of the community.

Whenever one stands up for a principle, one makes enemies. It was my fifth year in the hall and I had made some enemies, most of them being Brahmins, upper-caste Hindus. I was considered part of the Western-influenced elite who were, for the most part, the decision-makers in the hall and the ones who had more influence.

Here was a glorious chance for the Brahmins to get their payback. They started insisting that I had violated the traditions of the hall and that I should resign. It was futile for the chairman, who incidentally was a good mate of mine and someone who had won election to the post in part due to my help, to point out that the bishop was not an elected post, it was just an appointment. It did no good, the Brahmins wanted blood.

Finally, I called the chairman aside and told him that it was of no use; this gang wanted a victim and I had no problem giving up the role of bishop. I had stood up for something I believed in and I was willing to pay the price. I then stood up and told the hall of my decision, adding that I was proud of what I had done.

Later that night, the three Nigerians came to my room. They sat down and I still remember what they said to me: “Sammy, if they do anything to you, we kill them.” I assured them that there was no need for such an extreme attitude and that nothing would happen. I asked them to justify what I had done by becoming productive members of the hall.

Lucky became the outdoor games secretary the next year; he was a great hit. Princewell developed into a much-liked character and got along with most people after the row had cooled down. Moses remained somewhat reclusive and aloof but since two out of three had become good members of the Heber community, I considered what I had done a success.

Hamas official’s murder: things get murkier

ISRAEL has come under more pressure after additional revelations from Dubai about the murder of Hamas official Mahmoud Al Mabhouh – namely that the identities of another 15 people were stolen and used by those who carried out the killing.

The Mossad is suspected of carrying out the assassination; Israel, as it always does, has refused to either confirm or deny the allegations.

Six of the 15 had British passports and three had Australian passports. Some of those whose identities have been used have dual nationality and live in Israel, making it some kind of first.

Mossad has generally not used its own citizens’ identities to carry out operations abroad though in the past it has not been too bothered about violating the sovereignty of other countries where such operations are concerned.

There are Arabs said to be involved too, with two Palestinians being held in Dubai and Syria reported to be holding an associate of Mahbouh.

The murder took place in January and it took 10 days for the Dubai Police to conclude that it was not a natural death.

Both Britain and Australia have traditionally been extremely good allies of Israel and the fact that both countries appear to have been treated with contempt will obviously rankle.

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, did not mince his words, saying that if it was found that Israel was involved in stealing Australian travel documents, then it would not be the act of a friend.

The whole affair looked like settling down when these fresh allegations broke. Now it is likely to drag on for quite a while.

Why do people celebrate a meaningless, pagan festival?

A FEW days back I went by the local shopping centre to drop my daughter off there. This centre was rebuilt and reopened a few months ago. It now has an enormous amount of parking space. Yet on this day, every single space was taken.

There’s one reason for this: Christmas.

In the run-up to Christmas, people seem to go crazy. They run to every possible shopping outlet and buy all sorts of junk, supposedly as gifts for others. Old people, middle-aged people, young people and children, they all come out and indulge in this orgy of buying.

And it all has to be done before Christmas.

On Christmas Day itself, people eat enough to make themselves sick. The holiday is used as a way for people to get together – this can be a nice thing if you have friends and family in the place you live. But to use it as an excuse for over-consumption just doesn’t wash.

Four years ago, I began to question the meaning of all that was being done at Christmas time. I’ve known for a long time that Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ and everything to do with paganism. But I just went along – the children wanted gifts, everybody else wanted to indulge themselves and I joined in without too much of a murmur.

The family had a chat and decided that we would do without all the falsehood and unnecessary stress and strain – not to mention the waste of money. It was difficult for everyone to adjust the first year. The second year it got easier and this year nobody even talked about Christmas. It is just another day and that’s the way it should be.

The children want gifts at the end of the year so they get something but it is done well before December 25. I work every Christmas Day to emphasise the fact that it is an ordinary day – fortunately, I work in an industry where some people have to work every day of the year.

The churches would do well to abandon celebrations on this day for the only individual who is cited in the Bible as celebrating a birthday was Herod, a pagan if ever there was one. And for those who continue to believe that this day, December 25, has anything to do with the birth of Jesus, it is time to realise that nowhere in the Bible is one asked to celebrate the birthday of the book’s central figure.

As with many other things, people just go along with celebrating Christmas and do not stop to question. It is high time that this meaningless ritual was given the push. Let’s have a shopping festival instead – for that is exactly what Christmas is all about.