Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Atanu and Islam

I read this post by Atanu Dey the other day [if that link doesn't work, this one might]. It is all an entirely reasonable post on the topic of "hunger banquet", and actually, quite interesting. What really got to me in this post is the following:

"Sympathy is all you need my friend, and sympathy is all you need
And sympathy is all you need my friend
For there is not enough love to go around."

Thus sang Cat Stevens. (That is before he converted to Islam and became known as Yusuf Islam, and in keeping with his adopted creed, decided that murdering people was the best way to effect change in the world.)

As soon as I saw this, I said to myself: "Whoa!". At the end of this post, there were a few commenters pointing out that this smart-alecky aside on Islam is (a) unnecessary, and hence, gratuitous, and (b) totally out of character. However, his replies to his comments appear to betray, shall we say, certain pre-dispositions. Well, read the whole post, the comments thread and Atanu's response to some of the comments; then make up your own mind!

A few days later I found a post by Brad Delong with these opening words: "The highly-thoughtful Atanu Dey's Deeshaa wins the Best Indiblog Award". Now, I really couldn't take it. I posted a comment on Brad's post, to which I found a reply by Atanu, to which I replied. Since it has been nearly 40 days since the original post by Brad, I said finally that I am moving all further discussion to my blog.

I expect to post further thoughts on this episode later. So, let me gather everything in one place here .... The comments that we made on Brad's website are:

Me :

Yeah, Deesha is certainly an interesting blog. It was on my regular reading list, until I found this:

"... Thus sang Cat Stevens. (That is before he converted to Islam and became known as Yusuf Islam, and in keeping with his adopted creed, decided that murdering people was the best way to effect change in the world)."

I don't know about Cat Stevens deciding on anything, but I am sure you would agree that this is an insult to an entire "creed". It appears in a post on "hunger banquet", so this insult is truly gratuitous!

How can a thoughtful person -- who wishes to help his country by spreading some economic wisdom -- spew out such hateful words about an entire people, 120 million of whom are also his fellow-citizens?

It is such a shame ...

Atanu :

Did Cat Stevens convert to Islam? Yes. Did he call for the murder of Salman Rushdie for his book after his conversion? Yes. Does Islam require the murder of apostates and those who oppose Islam? Yes.

[You would get some argument about that...]

Is his action consistent with the tenets of his adopted faith? Yes.

Which part of what I wrote is not true?

If what I wrote is misconstrued as "spewing hateful words about an entire people", I suggest a course in remedial reading and critical thinking.

Me again :


I haven't had any course in remedial reading yet! However, I believe one needs only a small dose of critical thinking to realize the following:

(a) Ancient scriptures of any religion would show, upon closer inspection, certain things that its own adherents would find either embarrassing or abhorrent. In other words, there may be some crazy stuff in the scriptures, but the followers, quite sensibly, don't take them seriously.

Today, more than a billion Muslims reject the idea of death sentence for blasphemy. They would recoil in horror at the murder of someone because of a blasphemy alleged in a fatwa issued by a head of state. These modern Muslims, who form an overwhelming majority, deserve our support in their struggle against fundamentalist forces. What they don't deserve are cheap shots that try to tar their religion as 'bad', based on one man's bad thoughts and behaviour.

(b) Horrible atrocities and vicious crimes have been committed in the name of religion almost throughout history, and every religion has also been (at some point or the other) at the receiving end. If patriotism is the last resort of every scoundrel, religion would seem to be the first! Given the universality of this phenomenon across all major religions, why single out Islam for harsh treatment?

Well, while dealing with one's own private prejudices is bad enough, thinking about other people's publicly expressed prejudice and bigotry is truly depressing...