Friday, February 03, 2006

A sense of perspective

Two different incidents, yet with a strange parallel.

Incident 1:
Last year, a Danish newspaper published a caricature of Prophet Mohammad. Actually, it is a bunch of cartoons (12 in all), as satirical illustrations accompanying an article on self-sensorship and freedom of speech. One of the drawings depicts the Prophet with a bomb as his turban, and the comments accompanying the cartoons are not complimentary either. A Norwegien newspaper reproduced the cartoon, with various newspaper across Europe following suit.

Suffice it to say that these cartoons are in extremely bad taste. For one, Islam prohibits any image of the Prophet, even if it is in a positive manner, lest it amount to idolatory. Furthermore, these images are disparaging Islam in the crudest manner. While freedom of speech and expression is a noble ideal, it ends either when it infringes upon insensitivity to the feelings of a people, or if it is intentionally ridiculing a person or community.. The cartoons in question fail on both counts. While such analysis is obviously subjective, common sense dictates that these cartoons not be published.

Which brings me to the question, why were the cartoons published? The Danish newspaper, obviously from its perspective, sees nothing wrong in publishing the cartoons, and it might be justified in its stand. However, with the larger Muslim population likely to take offence at the cartoons in question, it would have been prudent to not publish the cartoons. The other reason would be purposeful incitement of the mass protests and violence that has arose over almost all of the Muslim world. Or it might just be that the newspaper simply did not have a sense of perspective when it published the cartoons.

The controversy rages on!

Incident 2:
The Vedic Foundation and the Hindu Education Foundation have have petitioned the California Department of Education suggesting improvements in the school textbooks' treatment of Hinduism. The two Foundations suggested a total of 170 corrections. Nothing wrong with that, one would suppose. Except, Dr. Michael Witzel, among others, of Harvard University deems fit to oppose 58 of those corrections (the CDE calls them edits), especially those dealing with the Aryan Invasion Theory, which he terms as fact. The curriculum commision went through the 58 edits, and accepted about a dozen of them.

What I find perplexing, is why Dr. Witzel wants to dredge up the AIT, which has been proved comprehensively to be a myth. No neutral scholar accepts the AIT as anything more than a fanciful invention of the British East India Company to create an excuse for the colonization of India, and to convert the entire populace to Christianity. Dr. Witzel's petition was neither based on reason nor on any factual and scholarly information. As some observers have pointed out, it is indeed a sad day for Harvard University that one of its "esteemed" professors is involved with such unscholarly activities.

The main issue of contention here is that while Christianity, Islam and Jewism are all potrayed in a positive light with absolutely no mention of their negative connotations, the text on Hinduism focusses more on its negative aspects, while the aspects of Hinduism that matter most are hardly given a passing mention. Furthermore, while the texts relating to the other religions are written by a person of that religion, the text about Hinduism is written from a non-Hindu perspective. Neither does the section on Hinduism confirm to the Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content, as set by the CDE. All that the two foundations are asking for is a fair potrayal of Hinduism in Californian textbooks.

What is the reason for this unfair potrayal? This theory ascribes the controversy to political issues, while this website summarizes the entire controversy. Further links are found here and here. Thanks to this article, which itself is worth reading, for the links.

Whatever be the reason, I am in favour of asking Dr. Witzel to shove it and for the CDE to get on with the proposed corrections.


Wormie said...

All religions are good, its the people that make them bad!

Nikhil said...

Religions may have been useful at some point of time, but they do not need to exist in today's world of technology & free-flowing information. & Thankfully they will be but a mere object of curiosity some decades down the line.

Sailesh Ganesh said...

Nikhil, you do not see any use for religion, and fair play to you. What makes you think the world does not need religion? I'm not talking about how religion might lead to more narrow-mindedness and wars, but rather about how any person, as an individual, will have no use for religion (Perhaps religion is not the right word; spirituality would be better suited).