Ayaan Hirsi Ali calls for Islam’s reboot – Maureen Callahan

Maureen Callahan“Ali thinks the West … should look to the lessons of the Cold War and recognize we are waging a battle of ideas — that in 17 Muslim majority nations, the state religion is Islam. … ‘We need to recognize that this is an ideological conflict that will not be won until the concept of jihad itself has been decommissioned.'” – Maureen Callahan

Ayaan Hirsi AliThere was a time when author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali believed it all: that, according to Islam, the infidel should die, that the Quran is infallible, that those who violated sharia law — thieves, gays, adulterers — deserved to be stoned to death or beheaded, as they were each Friday in a public gathering place she and her brother called “Chop-Chop Square.”

Today, she is that rare thing: a public intellectual who, despite death threats and charges of bigotry, calls for an end to Islam — not just as the faithful know it, but as we in the West think we know it.

“The assumption is that, in Islam, there are a few rotten apples, not the entire basket,” Ali tells The Post. “I’m saying it’s the entire basket.”

In her book, “Heretic,” Ali argues for a complete reformation of Islam, akin to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Though her own education led her to reject Islam and declare herself an atheist, she believes that for the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, there must be another way.

“If you are a child brought up to believe that Islam is a source of morality” — as she was, in Africa and Saudi Arabia — “the Muslim framework presents you with the Quran and the hijab. I don’t want to be cruel and say, ‘You grow up and you snap out of it.’ But maybe we who have snapped out of it have not done our best to appeal to those still in it,” she says.

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now - Ayaan Hirsi AliIn “Heretic,” Ali says there are three kinds of Muslims. There are the violent, the reformers, and what she believes is the largest group — those who want to practice as they see fit and live peaceably but do not challenge the Quran, the Muslim world’s treatment of women and the LGBT community, or terrorist attacks committed in the name of Islam.

Yet she refuses to label this group as moderate. She believes they have done nothing to deserve it. “I’ve never believed in the word,” Ali says. “It’s totally useless. I think we’re in a time now where we demand answers from Muslims and say, ‘Whose side are you on?’ ”

Ali argues for five amendments to the faith. “Only when these five things are recognized as inherently harmful and when they are repudiated and nullified,” she writes, “will a true Muslim reformation have been achieved.”

Those five notions are:

  1. The infallibility of the Prophet Muhammad and the literal interpretation of the Quran
  2. The idea that life after death is more important than life on Earth
  3. Sharia law
  4. Allowing any Muslim to enforce ideas of right and wrong on another
  5. Jihad, or holy war

Rejecting these ideas, some of which date to the 7th century, is a shocking proposition to the faithful.

“The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world,” Ali writes, “is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here.”

Religious DissentDissent and die

Ali has firsthand experience. In November 2004, after collaborating with the Dutch artist Theo van Gogh on the documentary “Submission” — which criticized the Muslim world’s abuse of women — Van Gogh was shot to death by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim. The assassin attempted to decapitate him and stabbed him in the chest, leaving a note affixed by the knife. It was a death threat against Ali.

She was forced into seclusion and given a 24-hour security detail. Today, she lives with her husband and young son in the United States yet remains a target.

“In no other modern religion,” Ali writes, “is dissent still a crime, punishable by death.”

She knows the greatest criticism she faces is that she is Islamophobic, that she is accusing all Muslims of adhering to jihad, to abuse, to the establishment of a caliphate.

In the book, Ali cites a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center on Muslims’ beliefs. It found that in Pakistan, 75 percent think those who leave Islam should be put to death. In Bangladesh, 43 percent think so. In Iraq, 41 percent.

Those who believe sharia is the infallible word of God: 81 percent in Pakistan, 65 percent in Bangladesh and 69 percent in Iraq.

She also cites a 2007 Pew study that found that among 18- to 29-year-old American Muslims, 7 percent had favorable opinions of al Qaeda, and they were twice as likely as older Muslims to believe suicide bombings in the name of their religion were warranted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IslamophobiaWar of ideology

This is where Ali thinks the Obama administration has failed.

President Obama “has acknowledged Islamophobia, which is the worst thing you can do for Muslims who are trying to turn things around,” she says. Whether it’s ISIS or al Qaeda or the Taliban or so-called lone wolves — such as the Boston Marathon bombers or the Charlie Hebdo attackers or the suicide bomber who blew up 15 Christians in Pakistan last week or the ISIS suicide bombing that left 137 fellow Muslims dead — when these people say they are killing in the name of true Islam, Ali says, believe them.

She accepts that Obama’s administration is attempting a delicate balance — that to declare war on Islam is exactly what these fighters want — but says more can be done.

“Obama is saying, ‘Listen, Muslims, I’m on your side. I respect your beliefs, and I’d like you to help me fight these attacks committed in the name of your religion,’ ” Ali says. “He’s delivering, and they’re not.”

Western Europe, she says, is turning away from the threat of self-segregating Islamic immigrants at its grave peril. A 2009 study by the think tank Citivas found 85 operational sharia courts in Great Britain alone.

“I think with the Arab world, the West thinks we’re fighting an inferior enemy,” Ali says. “Look at the language we use: It’s jihad, it’s insurgency, it’s asymmetric.” Ali thinks the West, and the US especially, should look to the lessons of the Cold War and recognize we are waging a battle of ideas — that in 17 Muslim majority nations, the state religion is Islam.

“We did not say the Soviet system was morally equivalent to ours; nor did we proclaim that Soviet communism was an ideology of peace,” Ali writes. “In much the same way, we need to recognize that this is an ideological conflict that will not be won until the concept of jihad itself has been decommissioned.”

Sam HarrisThe “mother lode”

The greatest obstacle to an Islamic reformation is the diffuse nature of the religion itself. Unlike Catholicism, there is no leader, no papal equivalent to endorse or denounce jihad. In fact, there is no hierarchy of any kind, and any man who wishes can declare himself an imam.

Meanwhile, groups such as ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban are successful precisely because they have top-down leadership, codified warfare and an explicit, simple goal. “These groups are adapting to modern technology, to modern innovations in organization and management,” Ali says. “They know that without a hierarchy, human beings understand nothing.”

She is gratified by the stance taken by Sam Harris, a prominent American neuroscientist and author of “The End of Faith.”

“Sam realizes that among religions, Islam is unique in its atrocity, that everything we said about [violence in] Christianity and Judaism was hundreds of years ago. He calls Islam ‘the mother lode of bad ideas,’ which is extremely brave,” she says.

With “Heretic,” Ali is calling on those Muslims who reject jihad, acts of terror, and the subjugation of women and infidels to organize, to challenge, to speak out loudly and often against violence committed in the name of Allah — and she is calling on the West to actively demand it.

“This is a transformation of the West as we know it,” she says. “We’re at the beginning, and what we do right now is going to be consequential.” – New York Post, 22 March 2015

» Maureen Callahan has worked as an editor and writer at the New York Post for seven years, covering everything from the subcultures of the Lower East Side to local and national politics. She has also written for Spin, New York, and the late, lamented Sassy. In 2009, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the New York Post.

Sam Harris

Pakistan: Religious women protesting against Charlie Hebdo Magazine

Myanmar court finds trio guilty of insulting religion – BBC

Buddhas in Burma

Buddha with earphonesPhilip Blackwood, who managed the VGastro Bar in Yangon, was arrested in December along with bar owner Tun Thurein and colleague Htut Ko Ko Lwin.

They have each been sentenced to two and a half years in jail.

Burmese law makes it illegal to insult or damage any religion.

The poster, which was posted on Facebook to advertise a cheap drinks night, showed Buddha surrounded by psychedelic colours. It sparked an angry response online.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has seen growing Buddhist nationalism in recent years.

All three men had denied insulting religion during their trial. Tun Thurein told the court that Blackwood alone was responsible for the posting. Blackwood had said sorry online and repeated his apology in court.

But the judge, Ye Lwin, said that though Blackwood apologised, he had “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief” when he uploaded the poster on Facebook, reported AFP news agency.

Blackwood, 32, said he planned to appeal against the sentence.

Speaking after sentencing outside the court before being bundled into a car, he said that he was “pretty disappointed” with his punishment, which was “more than the maximum sentence”.

Tun Thurein, Htut Ko Ko Lwin & Philip Blackwood“I have said that I was sorry so many times,” he said. “It was nothing to do with me.”

Before sentencing he said that he had removed the image and posted an apology when he realised it was being shared online and provoking outrage.

The New Zealander’s family say they hope the government will intervene to deport him.

Blackwood’s lawyer, Mya Tway, was careful with his assessment of the ruling which has been welcomed by some Buddhist groups.

“It will be difficult to say whether this verdict is fair or not because this is Myanmar, not like other democratic countries. That’s all I can say,” he said.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said that the three men acted in a culturally insensitive way but should not have been sent to prison.

“By using the Religion Act to criminalise these three individuals, rather than accepting an apology and dealing with it in another way, the government is, sort of, setting up more witch hunts against persons that these Buddhist groups view as being insulting [to] their religion,” he said.

Mr Robertson said that freedom of expression in Myanmar is under greater threat than ever as the country heads into a pivotal election year.

While free speech in Myanmar has improved under the country’s semi-civilian government, Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise in recent years, with extremist monks such as Wirathu growing in popularity. At the same time and Muslim minorities have been targeted, particularly in Rakhine state.

About 90% of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist. – BBC, 17 March 2015

VGastro Bar

Ode to Shiva – Raji P. Shrivastava

Lord Shiva meditating in bliss while Devi Parvati plays the vina

Raji P. Shrivastava“The scholarly hold this narrow view of you—that you are the Sun, the Moon, fire, air, water, space, earth, the Self. But who knows the things that you are not?” — Pushpadanta

“Nada tanu manisham shankaram….” sang Tyagaraja, the Carnatic saint-composer, in an immortal ode to Shiva or Shankara, the Lord of Auspiciousness.

“I salute you, with my head and my mind, for you are the embodiment of Nada (sound) and the essence of the Sama Veda. The sapta-swara or the seven notes, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni emerge from your five faces—Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Tatpurusha, Ishana and Aghora.” Tyagaraja’s chosen deity was Ram, and his usual language of composition was Telugu, but here he employed some stunning Sanskrit epithets for Shiva.

Pushpadanta, a Gandharva, composed the Shiva-Mahima Stotram, a string of lyrical verses in praise of Shiva, where he noted, “The scholarly hold this narrow view of you—that you are the Sun, the Moon, fire, air, water, space, earth, the Self. But who knows the things that you are not?” Shiva is the bestower of the most auspicious boons upon the Gods in heaven, despite the fact that his own possessions are seemingly inauspicious—the bull, a wooden hand-rest, an axe, a tiger skin, serpents, a human skull and ash smeared on his body. Shiva is beyond all delusions caused by the mirage of worldly life and therein lies his greatness.

Ravana, the 10-headed demon king of Lanka, whose pursuit of power was rivalled only by his legendary devotion to Shiva, realised that a different state of mind is needed to comprehend that sublime reality. “When will I be able to worship that eternal Shiva from a position of detached indifference towards a snake or a garland, precious gems or a clod of earth, friends or foes and a blade of grass or lotus-shaped eyes?” “Samapravartika kada sadashivam bhajamyaham?” he queried, in his famous composition, Shiva Tandava Stotram.

In the Vedas, obeisance is offered to Shiva in the form of Rudra. Curiously, the supreme ascetic is described as the wealth of the household and guardian deity of the home (vastavyaya cha vastupaya). Shiva as Rudra is worshipped as the sacred Om and the source of happiness in this life and in the hereafter. He confers bliss in this life and in the one beyond. The Rudram Chamakam, a powerful hymn from the Yajurveda, says that he is worshipped because he is auspicious—Shiva—but also because he is more auspicious—Shivatara—than any other thing.

Venerable seers or power-crazed demons, saintly musicians or divine minstrels, homemakers or office-goers—everyone connects with the Shiva within. The lyrics may differ and the settings may change, but the heart thrills with the instinctive realisation that we dance to an auspicious music deep within our souls—something very Shiva-like. – The Asian Age, 26 February 2014

» Raji P. Shrivastava is an IAS officer in Punjab. 

 

Obama insults India, Krauthammer defends her – David Cohen

Barack Obama

David Cohen“Obama might have said: ‘Many of those acts of intolerance have been perpetrated by missionaries and NGOs from our own country.’ Few Americans are aware of the coercive, deceptive and abusive tactics used by some American missionaries, funded by stateside religious groups, to convert Indian Hindus to Christianity. The worst offenders go well beyond the open exchange of Charles Krauthammerreligious ideas, and are appallingly disrespectful of Hinduism and Indian culture.” – David Cohen

Appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s radio talk show Friday, columnist Charles Krauthammer launched into a devastatingly hilarious riff on President Obama’s infamous National Prayer Breakfast speech last week. Obama, of course, invoked the Crusades and other ancient grievances lest Christians get on their “high horse” over the recent savagery of Islamist extremists. Krauthammer’s take:

This is a combination of the banal and the repulsive. The banal is the adolescent who discovers that, well, man is fallen and many religions have abused their faith and used it as a weapon. This is what you discover when you’re 12 or 17 and what you discuss in the Columbia dorm room. He’s now bringing it to the world as a kind of revelation. And he does it two days after the world is still in shock by the video of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, as a way of saying: Hey, what about Joan of Arc?”

But Krauthammer was particularly taken aback when Obama’s sanctimony abruptly swerved eastward: Obama inexplicably called out India for supposed (and unspecified) acts of religious intolerance. “What the hell is he doing bringing India into this?” Krauthammer wondered aloud.

That question was certainly on the minds of many Indians. Obama had recently returned from a visit to India, where he received a hero’s welcome. Alas, India’s love for Obama appears to be unrequited.

Krauthammer strongly defended India’s honor:

Here he is essentially insulting [India], and it’s because it’s a Hindu country. It’s not Muslim. I mean, he’ll say [people committed terrible deeds] in the name of Christ. He won’t say in the name of Muhammad and in the name of Allah. He won’t use those words. And then he goes after India, which is probably our strongest, most stable, most remarkable, democratic ally on the planet, considering all the languages and religions that it harbors. It has the second-largest Muslim population on Earth. And yet he goes after it as a way of saying hey, everybody here is at fault. They are not at fault.”

It’s good that India is on Krauthammer’s radar. Krauthammer is probably America’s most respected conservative opinion leader. With a weekly column in the Washington Post and a daily platform on Fox News’s excellent Special Report panel, Krauthammer continuously injects his wise insights directly into the political discourse.

Krauthammer is also a strong supporter of Israel. He may not be aware of a rather counterintuitive conclusion that I reached in a recent column: No country has more supporters of Israel than India. That includes the U.S. and, in terms of absolute numbers, it even includes Israel. To be sure, the Islamist and leftist brands of anti-Zionism are predictably well represented in India. But the widespread affinity for Israel in India, especially among the Hindu majority and most particularly within Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s base, is something that’s not sufficiently appreciated in the U.S. or in Israel. Much of that affinity derives from India’s shared experience with Israel as a prime target of Islamist extremism. With its large population and burgeoning economic clout, India will be a key ally to both Israel and the U.S. in the coming years. For Israel in particular, Modi’s India can provide an enormous exception to the Jewish state’s isolation in the developing world.

In his National Prayer Breakfast remarks, after talking Christendom down from its high horse, Obama turned his attention to his recent hosts. After paying condescending lip service to the fact that India is “an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity,” Obama proceeded to his actual purpose: calling out India for religious persecution, “acts of intolerance that would have shocked” Mahatma Gandhi.

Had he been so inclined, Obama might have added: “Many of those acts of intolerance have been perpetrated by missionaries and NGOs from our own country.” Few Americans are aware of the coercive, deceptive and abusive tactics used by some American missionaries, funded by stateside religious groups, to convert Indian Hindus to Christianity. The worst offenders go well beyond the open exchange of religious ideas, and are appallingly disrespectful of Hinduism and Indian culture. This is perhaps the primary sticking point in what I believe is a natural alliance between the GOP and the BJP (Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party). However, it is a sticking point that can be overcome with education: I am certain that most Christian conservatives in the U.S. are not aware of the abuses committed by some American missionaries and would not approve of them. (This, by the way, is another bond between India and Israel: Jews and Hindus generally do not proselytize, and generally do not wish to be proselytized.)

When Obama lamented the supposed “acts of intolerance” in India, of course, he did not have American missionaries in mind. According to the narrative of espoused by Indian leftists — who, in an ironically colonial way, crave the validation of Western leftists — Hindus are oppressing India’s minority religions. I would bet that certain Indian leftists have Team Obama’s ear. Many Hindus, for their part, feel besieged by Muslims and Christians aggressively trying to increase their numbers through conversion. If you think it implausible for Hindus to feel besieged in a Hindu-majority nation, consider the case of the Pandits, a Hindu community from the Muslim-majority Indian state of Kashmir. Islamists drove them out of Kashmir a quarter century ago with a murderous terror campaign. They now mostly live in internal exile in other parts of India. (There are poignant commonalities between the Kashmiri Pandits, a very learned and accomplished community, and the Jews.) – The Daily Caller, 9 February 2015

» David Cohen is former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior. He is a practising attorney and consultant in Los Angeles.

The Swastika: Ancient symbol of well-being struggles to overcome Nazi connections – Antonia Blumberg

Swastika Elephant Gate, Carlsberg Brewery, CopenhagenSwastika Sanskrit Etymology

Antonia BlumbergFor many around the world, the swastika is a sign of genocide and hatred, reviled for its association to the Nazi party. But for centuries before the Holocaust, and to this day, the swastika represented something very different for millions of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains across the globe. – Antonia Blumberg

Hindu boy with a swastika drawn on his head during a upanayana ceremony.An ‘auspicious’ symbol

The symbol bears special significance for one 18-year-old born and raised in India. She is a poet, student and interfaith activist, and her name is Swastika Jajoo. The name is not uncommon in India, where the swastika is a revered symbol in many of its faith traditions. Though the symbol has always played a central role in Jajoo’s life, the meaning of the swastika to her has begun to shift as she mulls the prospect of studying abroad.

Jajoo, who was featured in a Huffington Post article in November after winning a teen writers’ award from online magazine KidSpirit, is considering using a shortened nickname when she pursues academic studies in Europe or the United States — a bittersweet reality for a teenager born and raised in a Hindu family in India, where the swastika is revered.

“The swastika is emblematic of prosperity that extends beyond the individual to all four directions of the world,” Jajoo told The Huffington Post by email. “My parents wanted a daughter with infectious goodness, enthusiasm and love for life […] and so they decided to give me the name Swastika.”

The word “swastika” translates to “well-being” from its original Sanskrit, and it has long been considered an auspicious symbol by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, as well as in Mesopotamian, Mayan and other indigenous civilizations around the globe.

“[The swastika is] 3,000 years old and maybe more,” Devdutt Pattanaik, an Indian mythology researcher and author, told HuffPost by email.

Swastika on a Hindu temple gateway in MaharashtraIn India, the swastika is “as common as the cross is in Europe and America,” he said. It’s often featured in Hindu homes, on temples and in artwork. Many draw the swastika on accounting books and in their offices to affirm prosperity, as Manav Lalwani, a Hindu American young professional, does and his father and grandfather did before him. Lalwani is the director of product development at a manufacturing company in New Jersey, which his father owns with three Jewish business partners.

The hooked cross occupies four corners of a square, Lalwani said, which can indicate that “God pervades all directions.”

Pattanaik said he doubted many in India were aware of the swastika’s association to Nazi Germany, though some, like Jajoo, may understand the negative connotations but still appreciate it as a religious symbol.

“It somehow makes me feel like a carrier of benevolence, of harmony, of peace,” Jajoo told HuffPost.

But many in the U.S., where Jajoo intends to study, will not share her feelings about the name.

“Some names just don’t fly — at least in some social, geographic or cultural contexts,” Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of CLAL–The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, told HuffPost in an email. “They are not inherently evil or morally wrong … but they may be contextually wrong.”

This context, Hirschfield continued, is one in which Holocaust survivors still bear tattoos from concentration camps. For them, the swastika likely communicates all the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.

“The swastika is a symbol of more than oppression,” the rabbi said. “It is a symbol of genocidal hatred, and hopefully not only for Jews, but for all decent people.”

A street scene showing displays of the Olympic and German (swastika) flags in Berlin, site of the summer Olympic Games. Berlin, Germany, August 1936.‘A legacy of misappropriation’

Although some groups in Europe and the Americas have undertaken campaigns to “reclaim” the swastika as a symbol of peace, Hindu Americans have largely opted out of these efforts.

“It’s not at the top of the list right now,” said Khyati Joshi, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University who specializes in immigrant religious communities and multicultural education.

The main concern for Hindu Americans, Joshi continued, is securing a place for Hinduism in American public life and “transmitting the culture to the next generation.” That said, Joshi and Lalwani both said they have images of the swastika displayed throughout their homes. The symbol can also be found in Lalwani’s office, which has long featured the swastika on its safe and balance sheets.

When he was a child, Lalwani said, his father placed the swastika out of sight behind a TV monitor in deference to his Jewish business partners.

“It was an interesting way for him to negotiate tradition and sensitivity in an inherently diverse environment,” Lalwani said. He said his father has been in business with some of his partners for decades, and so over time, the swastikas in his office have become less of an issue, and he takes care to explain its significance in Hinduism to any new employees.

For Joshi it’s less a question of negotiating tradition and more about picking her battles.

“Sometimes we have to fight these ideological fights, and sometimes practicality must reign,” she said.

When her grandfather gave her a piece of jewelry decorated with swastikas in high school, she had to explain to him why he would never find her wearing it in the U.S.

“There’s so much pain it causes people, that … do I need to wear it and inadvertently hurt someone?” Joshi said. “No.”

Joshi’s reluctance to make a public demonstration of adoration for the swastika and Hirschfield’s caution against doing so are indicative of what Lalwani called a “legacy of misappropriation.” Adolf Hitler and his ilk managed to turn an ancient auspicious symbol into one of vile racism and oppression — perhaps irrevocably.

Nazis used it for but 20 years yet they seem to have to appropriated [the] swastika totally, like cultural colonizers,” Pattanaik argued. “The global village seems to have legitimized their appropriation.”

Adolf HitlerNazis use of the symbol

The swastika was well-known in Europe and the U.S. prior to the Holocaust. Over a century ago archaeologists encountered it in the cultural remains of the Ancient Greeks, Celts and Anglo-Saxons, as well as across Eastern Europe. The symbol also found a place in modern Western architecture and design before the Nazi party made it taboo.

In his book, The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? Steven Heller writes of the swastika’s use in Masonic imagery, the Theosophical movement, on several countries’ flags and even as the chosen symbol of peace for the League of Nations’ Vilna Commission in the 1920s.

Things changed when shoddy scholarship and archaeological analysis led the Nazis to mistakenly conclude they were direct descendants of an ancient Indian tribe — the so-called “Aryans” — who lived circa the second millennium B.C.

BBC writes:

The Nazi use of the swastika stems from the work of 19th Century German scholars translating old Indian texts, who noticed similarities between their own language and Sanskrit. They concluded that Indians and Germans must have had a shared ancestry and imagined a race of white god-like warriors they called Aryans.

This idea was seized upon by anti-Semitic nationalist groups who appropriated the swastika as an Aryan symbol to boost a sense of ancient lineage for the Germanic people. 

Poet and Austrian-German nationalist Guido von List first suggested the swastika’s use as a symbol for anti-Semitic organizations in 1910, and the National Socialist Party adopted it roughly a decade later. It wasn’t until Hitler placed the black swastika on a white circle with a red background in 1935 that it became the national flag of Germany and the official icon of anti-Semitism.

Even this narrative may be flawed, however, said Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, who serves as the president of the Buddhist Council of New York and wrote his dissertation on the swastika’s complex connotations. A Buddhist priest and researcher, Nakagaki has studied the history of Hitler’s appropriation of the symbol and argues that there is a linguistic error at play.

“‘Swastika’ shouldn’t been the word to describe the Nazi symbol,” Nakagaki told HuffPost over the phone. “It should be ‘hakenkreuz.’

Using his own translations of Mein Kampf, the priest argued that Hitler in fact never used the term “swastika” but instead referred to the symbol as “hakenkreuz” — the German word for a hooked cross.

“It was a cross for Hitler,” Nakagaki said. “By saying ‘swastika’ people don’t see the cross anymore.”

What this suggests, he continued, is that people who view the swastika as forever-tarnished by the Holocaust may actually be thinking of an entirely different symbol than the one beloved by Hindus, Buddhists and many others.

“People think of it as a universal symbol of evil, but it’s not really universal at all,” Nakagaki said.

Indus Valley Swastika SealsBridging the divide

For those eager to shift the narrative, dialogue can go a long way to begin bridging the divide. Today these conversations are more feasible than they may have been several decades ago, said Joyce The swastika, the Phoenician sun symbol, on the Phoenician Craig-Narget stone in Scotland, and on the robe of a Phoenician high priestess. Dubensky, CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

“There has been education,” Dubensky told HuffPost over the phone, “[and] I think we can move on beyond a monolithic perspective of what the symbol means — and a Western-centric one.”

Pattanaik argued it is “for the West to accept” the swastika’s older significance, but Lalwani would disagree.

“It has beautiful meaning,” he said, “and I think it’s up to those who use it ​to talk about it ​and​​ explain why, in a way that ​broadens its perception en masse.”

The goal should be education, not conversion to a particular belief system, he added.

Lalwani argued that it isn’t “up to the Hindus or necessarily in their interest to change what the swastika means to the Jews.”

“They should be allowed to be repulsed by it just like Hindus should be allowed to be bolstered by its auspiciousness,” he said.

The symbol may never find a place in the hearts of those who came to know it as a symbol of oppression. But through dialogue, Dubensky suggested, people across the spectrum can come to better understand the swastika’s manifestations and the symbol may even become “a bridge for respect.”

“I don’t know if [the swastika] will ever be one that’s comfortable for some of those who identify as among the people who were victimized by Hitler,” Dubensky said. “[But] I think this conversation can be one of the doorways to our living with one another with greater respect and understanding.” – HuffPost, 4 February 2015

» Antonia Blumberg works for HuffPost Religion covering a range of faith and spirituality topics. She is passionate about interfaith activism and strives to explore the ways in which religion plays out in contemporary media and politics. Antonia graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Anthropology.

Swastika, Lambach Benedictine Abbey, Austria

Lambach Benedictine Abbey, Lambach, Austria

Book Review: The stubborn myth that the US is a Christian country – Laura Miller

Laura Miller“It was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brilliant, irascible Aunt Mary, a ‘prototypical American eccentric,’ who first introduced her nephew and intellectual protégé to the concepts and iconography of Hindu mythology after she met ‘a Visitor here from India’ in 1822. Their correspondence on these and other spiritual matters would inform Transcendentalism and in turn the Eastern-infused philosophies of generations to come.”- Laura Miller

John WinthropAs Peter Manseau, author of “One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History,” would have it, nothing has done more damage to the ideal of American religious pluralism than the “stubborn persistence of words spoken more than a century before the United States was a nation at all.” Those words are “a city upon a hill,” preached by the Puritan John Winthrop to his fellow colonists as they prepared to leave their ship at Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Most strenuously invoked by Ronald Reagan, the city on the hill, according to Manseau, has for the past 50 years “dominated presidential rhetoric about the nation’s self-understanding, causing an image borrowed from the Gospels to become a tenet of faith in America’s civil religion.”

The incessant citation of Winthrop’s metaphor — which envisioned the fledgling colony as a shining example set up to inspire the world but also to invite its comprehensive moral scrutiny — keeps reinforcing the assumption that the United States is fundamentally Christian. There’s more behind that stubborn belief than just rhetoric, of course, but when even ostensibly pluralistic presidents like John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama conjure up Winthrop’s biblical metaphor, it starts to take on the aura of an unquestioned truth.

Peter ManseauWell, Manseau certainly questions it with “One Nation, Under Gods,” an unusual work of history meant to revive the idea that the U.S. is a “land shaped and informed by internal religious diversity — some of it obvious, some of it hidden.” Most key points in our national narrative involve a non-Christian element if you look closely, he maintains. “One Nation, Under Gods” is less a continuous narrative itself than a series of isolated snapshots, each chapter telling the story of a person considered a heretic, blasphemer, atheist or heathen, who nevertheless helped in some way to shape the course of American history.

A few of Manseau’s examples are familiar, particularly Thomas Jefferson, the founding father often branded an atheist in his own time and whose Deism today’s Christian conservatives strategically overlook. In a deft move, Manseau captures Jefferson’s heterodox status by relating how, as an old man, the third president offered to sell 6,000 volumes from his own personal library to the nation. (These books remain the core collection of the Library of Congress.) It was a controversial proposal, as some critics complained that Jefferson’s library “abounded with productions of atheistical, irreligious and immoral character,” and some were even “in the original French”! In examining Jefferson’s own cataloging system, Manseau finds evidence of the Sage of Monticello’s conviction that “religious systems inevitably and necessarily interact with each other in ways at once contentious, intimate and transformative.”

Some of the stories in “One Nation, Under Gods” are more surprising. “It is perhaps the greatest of forgotten influences on American life and culture,” Manseau writes, that some 20 percent or more of Africans living in America around the time of the Revolutionary War were Muslims, a quantity that “dwarfed the number of Roman Catholics or Jews.” The majority of enslaved Africans did practice such Western African religions as Yoruba and Obeah, all of which contributed to the distinctive customs of African-American Christianity. But we also have a handful of stories of African Muslims abducted to the U.S., where, as in the case of one Omar ibn Said, they astonished the natives by writing fluently in a strange alphabet (Arabic) and impressed, if also bewildered, everyone with their abstemious piety.

TitubaTituba, a slave, was the first person accused in the Salem Witch Trials, and although often depicted as African, she was most likely an “Indian” from South America, by way of Barbados. She had made a “witch cake” (a nasty concoction of rye flour and urine) for divinatory purposes, and in doing so was probably tapping into multiple folk traditions, including those of the colonists’ own native England. Manseau believes such practices, though forbidden, were anything but rare in the colonies and should be thought of as “a kind of spiritual equalizer, providing religious authority outside social structures that were inevitably defined at times by class and gender.” Tituba herself quickly figured out that the best course of action when called up before the court was to “confess” every lurid detail the magistrates wanted to hear, including the visits she received from the devil, his commands that she serve him, and the culpability of her two co-defendants (unpopular village women) in casting spells on children. As a result, Tituba was the only one of the three to escape execution. Long before the advent of modern-day spin doctors, she grasped the advantage of getting ahead of the story.

Then there is the network of Jewish merchants extending from Pennsylvania to Amsterdam by way of the island of St. Eustatius, in the Caribbean, a major conduit of supplies and funds through the British blockade during the Revolutionary War. One Polish Jew, Haym Solomon, gave so much money to the cause of independence that he died penniless. He and his co-religionists, driven from one European nation to another in a roundelay of persecution, hoped and believed they could finally find refuge in the fledgling nation.

Ralph Waldo EmersonIt was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s brilliant, irascible Aunt Mary, a “prototypical American eccentric,” who first introduced her nephew and intellectual protégé to the concepts and iconography of Hindu mythology after she met “a Visitor here from India” in 1822. Their correspondence on these and other spiritual matters would inform Transcendentalism and in turn the Eastern-infused philosophies of generations to come. (Manseau provides a survey of Hindu beliefs and stories cropping up in the work of Thoreau and even Melville, as well as a persistent interest in Indian religion on the part of American feminists like Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Margaret Fuller.)

But perhaps the most fascinating chapter in “One Nation, Under Gods” explores recent theories about the influence of a syncretic Native American revival movement on Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon. The young half-brother of a Seneca chief, Handsome Lake, was an aging, ne’er-do-well hunter who experienced a revelation during a near-fatal illness. What was revealed to him fused Iroquois mythology with Quaker-like morality into a reimagined creation story explaining how the Iroquois had fallen so low in their own land. Handsome Lake died when Smith was 10, but a Mormon scholar has pointed out that only weeks before Smith’s own visions commenced, Handsome Lake’s nephew spoke at a public gathering in Smith’s town of Palmyra, New York.

The Code of Handsome Lake, like the Mormon story of the Native Americans as a lost tribe of Israel, is “a tale of white and Indian unity interrupted by evils brought across the sea.” Both creeds stressed sobriety and involved the manifestation of three angelic presences charged with guiding the inhabitants of the New World to a better future. Both were born during a period of intense, innovative religious activity known as the Second Great Awakening and arose in a region of Western New York state dubbed “the Burned-Over District” for the fervor that seemed to consume everyone in the vicinity. Shakers, One Nation, Under Godsutopian communities, millenarians and spiritualists were just some of the unorthodox and fractious believers who flourished there.

But even the idea that Winthrop’s little community represented a unified city on a hill is an illusion, as the Puritan dissidents Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson could testify. The Pilgrims might have all called themselves Christians, but some differences among them were seen by their theocratic leaders as profound threats to the spiritual survival of the community. Both Williams and Hutchinson were cast out and created communities of their own. There was literally never a point in the history of the colonies or the U.S. when all or most Americans genuinely shared the same faith. “The true gospel of the American experience,” Manseau writes, “is not religious agreement but dissent.” – Salon, 3 Februsry 2015

» Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a website, www.magiciansbook.com.

Our Lady of Madhu Church is built on an ancient Pattini Amma Temple site – Shenali D. Waduge

Madhu Church, Mannar, Sri Lanka

Shenali Waduge“The site where Madhu Church presently stands was the original site of a Pattini Devale (later called Amman Kovil) since 114-136 CE under King Gajabahu. This means that the Pattini Devale has been where the Madhu Church now stands for 1850 years. If the Pattini Devale is no longer in its original site it is because the Portuguese Catholics destroyed every place of worship that was non-Catholic and converted non-Catholics to Catholicism.” –  Shenali D. Waduge

Goddess PattiniWith the recent calls to rewrite history it is no better a time than now to bring out all the hard facts that have got both hidden or buried (pun intended). Every time the topic of colonial atrocities are brought forward for debate the quick response is to claim these as history pushing to the background the crimes committed in the name of peaceful coexistence.

However, when most of the laws in place today were created with the intention of putting past crimes into the background and to ensure the continuance of the reign of white rule over the rest of us. Given that we are all victims, it is time we started to remind these very nations of some of their crimes. The background of the Pattini Devale is important for many reasons – it is where the Madhu Church presently stands, the Pattini Devale has a history beyond 1850 years whereas the Madhu Church is hardly 150 years old. Misappropriation of sacred sites belonging to other religions need to stop. The Church has to apologize and return the site to its original owners.

Of late the media attempts to portray the Madhu Church as being more than 600 years old which is proven an exaggeration for the Portuguese Catholics came to Sri Lanka in 1505 – Catholic history starts after conversion of Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. In fact a recommendation was to be made under the Ranil Wickremasinghe Government to recommend to the Vatican that the church be sanctified as a National Basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. How historically and morally incorrect this move is to the Pope Francis with Sri Lanka flagHindus who are well aware of the history behind the ‘church’.

If anyone contests this claim they have to only refer to Brief Notice of the Origin and History of the Sanctuary of Madhu by the then Bishop of Jaffna to Mr. E. B. Denham who had tried to conceal that the church was on top of the ancient Pattini Devale as admitted by British civil servant R. W. Levers. They would also need to refer to Manual of the North Central Province by R. W. Levers who says “At the present day the offerings are generally taken to St. Mary’s Church at Madhu, which is considered by the Buddhist and a great many of the Tamil pilgrims, who resort there, as the Temple of Pattini Amma (Amman Kovil).” – these are historically recorded truths by the British themselves.

Chronology:

  • Portuguese Catholics arrive in Sri Lanka – 1505
  • Dutch Christians arrive in Sri Lanka – 1602
  • British arrive in Sri Lanka – 1796
  • Dutch Protestants drove out Portuguese from Mannar – 1670 (344 years ago)
  • Madhu a Catholic shrine only since 1870 (a history of 144 years only)
  • Even though the Bishop of Jaffna initiated the Madhu Festival since 1870, it did not have a church.
  • The foundation stone of the church was laid only in 1876. (so the church itself is only 138 years old and thus the claims made by the late UNP minister that the church is 600 years old is a total fabrication). Moreover, even by 1911 there were no permanent residents at Madhu. The Census of 1911 recorded 320 pilgrims, 230 of whom were Sinhalese from Colombo and the rest from Chilaw.

Gajabahu I also known as Gajabahuka Gamani (c. 114 – 136 CE) of Rajarata in Sri LankaHindus have greater claim

The site where Madhu Church presently stands was the original site of a Pattini Devale (later called Amman Kovil) since 114-136 CE under King Gajabahu. This means that the Pattini Devale has been where the Madhu Church now stands for 1850 years. If the Pattini Devale is no longer in its original site it is because the Portuguese Catholics destroyed every place of worship that was non-Catholic and converted non-Catholics to Catholicism. These conversions were done by force and anyone resisting faced death. We are well aware of the suffering the Catholic Inquisition since 1233 caused for all non-Catholics and heretics, and it was because the Dutch themselves were victims that they avenged the suffering they were put through by the Catholics when they arrived in Sri Lanka. The 1638 Treaty between the Dutch and the Sinhala King provided a clause to expel all Catholics.

The Madhu site is where the Hindu Amman Kovil has stood for at least 1850 years as against 144 years for the Madhu Church. What needs to be reiterated and what the Catholic Church needs to accept is that the Church usurped this ancient Hindu temple, not only that they desecrated the Durgai Amman Silai and built a Catholic church in its place in 1876 though the annual Madhu Festival has been held since 1870.

Cankili II (Cekaracacekaran IX)The usurping of the Hindu kovil is very much part of the inquisition objectives and a continuation of the wanton destruction of scores of temples, kovils and murder of Muslims by the Portuguese Catholics. The Church clergy may not like to be reminded that they ordered the beheading of the last Tamil Hindu ruler Sangili Kumaran and conversion of his family. Tamils should not forget that it was the Sinhalese king who sent his general to rescue the Hindu Tamils and in so doing sacrificed his life. Was it not a repetition of this very same scenario that occurred during the final phase of the war when 5000 military lives was lost to save 300,000 Tamils many of whom were possibly LTTE family members or even LTTE in civilian attire.

Therefore all Catholics in Sri Lanka descend from Sinhalese and Tamils who were forcibly converted by the Portuguese Catholics. 

At this point we need to also remind the Hindus that prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505 the Sinhalese and Hindus were living amicably. It was the spectre of the arrival of the white man that brought a curse to the country since 1505.

Hindus and Buddhists became united through the efforts to bring about the anti-conversion legislation. We recall the efforts of UNP MP Maheswaran who tried his best to reconvert Tamils to Hinduism but he fell prey to LTTE’s guns.

So did six soldiers who were cleaning the Madhu Church premises on 12 Feb 2008.

Cardinal Malcolm RanjitWhile the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka says sacred places should be kept free of violence and bloodshed we cannot but wonder why they are silent about very prominent Catholic clergy who had been and continue to be very much involved with the LTTE and their sponsors both locally and internationally. The accusation against the Church of connections to the LTTE could have been easily negated by the Church taking action against these Catholic clergy by defrocking them. The golden question is – why has the Church not taken action against these clergy who have been very much aligned to terrorist activity.

Rayappu JosephIf Father Rayappu Joseph opened Eelam House in London, allowed the Madhu Church to be used as an LTTE office. We also recall the arrests of 3 priests on 1 February 2008 carrying suicide jackets and interrogations revealed that these priests had brought down 30 suicide cadres from Mannar to Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. These priests had even transported several suicide kits and weapons. One of the 3 arrested was a pastor of a church in Mannar. The previous year on 20 February security forces also recovered cyanide capsules and equipment from St. Mary’s Church Jaffna. What we can make out is that the Christian clergy had been used to transport weapons and explosives across the country – this is aiding and abetting terrorism.

Fr. S. J. EmmanuelWhat individual priests do using the cover of the religion can be effectively responded to not simply by issuing a statement denouncing the action. Given the innumerable cases of involvement by priests with a banned terrorist movement what the Church and its headquarters in the Vatican should have rightfully done was to defrock those like Father Emmanuel and Father Rayappu Joseph.

Returning to the issue of the ownership of the Madhu site – all that needs to be repeated is that the place is rightfully that of the Pattini Kovil of the Hindus. It is immoral for the site to be usurped and made into a holy site for Catholics totally ignoring the history behind the site. Numerous other sites across the country where churches stand were all formerly sites of Buddhist temples as well. The exact positions of these churches where former Buddhist temples once stood are given in the Portuguese chronicler Queyroz’s works.

Sri Lankan Catholic priests demonstrating in support of LTTE chief PrabhakaranWhat needs to be also said is that the continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America were all invaded, occupied and systems put in place to convert the natives, kill those who refused, plunder the wealth of the lands and devise devious ways to play the natives against each other by creating sub-cultures that would create the necessary environment for these white Western nations to prevail over the ‘uncivilized’ world. Has any of this colonial mentality changed at all over the years?

 Be that as it may what needs to be said is that the very countries ignoring their own track records are dictating the rules of law to us the victims and all we can say is to return all that they took by force and level the playing field first. – Express, 25 January 2014

 » Shenali Waduge is a Sri Lankan civil society writer concerned about fair play in all matters that concern citizens of her country as well as the world at large.

Devi Kannagi-Pattini

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