Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Will the Obama Presidency Usher in a New Era of Change?

Over a billion people all over the world watched on TV and over the Internet, over 200 million Americans watched from home and about 2 million Americans attended President Obama's inauguration at Washington DC. (wonder how many will attend the second inauguration in January 2013?)

What did we all witness?
  • The 44th president of the mightiest superpower (don’t hear much of that mighty bit anymore!) being sworn in
  • The first non-white US president ever
  • Another well orchestrated “historical” pageant Americans are so keen on and good at - The 150 year old Bible of Abraham Lincoln dragged out to witness a historical event
  • About 2 million modern comfort loving Americans throng the streets in freezing cold to witness this event
  • Totally new and fresh dress icon for women in Michelle Obama

Yes, all these but most importantly something that few people get to experience in their lifetimes. When the bed of the river of history has discernibly tilted in a certain direction, a Moses like figure appears and promises that by being united in will, effort and commitment all the people together can change the direction the river of history will take. 

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By an astonishing quirk of history the backdrop against which this tumultuous scene unfolds is graced by the parting president, now widely acknowledged as the most incompetent leader in American history by many historians.

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The reigning dynasties of Bushes, Clintons and Kennedys are all there among the hawks, foxes and wolves of Capitol Hill. The two million strong ordinary folks have brought a message that they are tired of the arrogance of the incumbent. 

The new leader has woken the people to a new vigil. The 3rd President Jefferson’s word ring true here. 
If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.” 
So, is this president an individual exception? Only time will tell.

USA in the Same Position as Britain at the End of the Victorian Era

  • It remains to be seen if this lanky man with a sprightly gait with very little money like another lanky lawyer 160 years ago is the exception. 
  • The state of the economy is grim, productivity is sinking and mismanagement competes with corruption to divide the nation into the arrogant wealthy despising the increasing masses of the dispossessed. 
  • Two totally unnecessary wars have drained resources and sapped the moral strength of the nation. 
  • USA has reached the stage of imperial decay like Britain in the end of the Victorian era when about 20-30% of the profits of the industrial-commercial complex come from foreign direct investments. 
  • To protect these interests, America has military presence in over sixty countries, like Britain then.

Can American ingenuity and resolute action clinch again initiatives in the field of production and commerce without the need for coercion? 

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Will Americans rediscover the idea of America, which has stood as a beacon of inspiration for people tortured by the storied pomp of the ancient lands and attracted the wretched refuse of their teeming shores, the homeless to a promised land of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Expediency or ideals, brute force or diplomacy, fear mongering or courage to make hard decisions – the task is hard and the night is long.

Will President Obama really be able to make any changes? There are two options. His high rhetoric and idealism will be contagious and result in positive changes. Issues which had been neglected or unapproachable due to partisan politics would be addressed and the continuous wars would stop.

The other option is that the destiny of the American Empire is too rigidly en route wherever it is going and the high priest of oratory will be remembered for his beautiful words and other things will just get worse. This seems rather more likely when one considers that 25% of Americans have a mental disease and 50% will get one in their lifetime, according to US Adult Mental Illness Surveillance Report.

Historical Example of Grand Success from Ancient Persia

One of the earliest success stories of this Herculean task is from a place labelled as the “Axis of Evil” by the previous administration. Around 540 B.C. Cyrus the Great of Persia got rid of the impious Nabonidus and ushered in an era of tolerance, prosperity and reforms. He also managed to settle for a time one crucial issue President Obama tactfully omitted from his inaugural speech – the Jewish-Palestinian question.

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This first 'human rights charter' in history, the Cyrus Cylinder, which can be freely seen at the British Museum in London bears witness as does the Book of Ezra in the Bible, that even the Jewish question can be solved if there is a will.

Yes, we can! There is hope (of what, that is another question)!

The new official White House website is now more open than the George II version.

Photos Source: Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Why Should We Force Our Religious Views on Others?

The advertisement "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” runs on 200 buses in London and 600 vehicles in England, Scotland and Wales in an advertising campaign. The atheist Professor Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association officially back this anti-God campaign.

Bus driver Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire, UK walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest. His employer, the bus company, First Bus said in a statement: 
"As an organisation we don't endorse any of the products or sentiments advertised on our buses. The content of this advert has been approved by the Advertising Standards Agency and therefore it is capable of being posted on static sites or anywhere else."

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Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, expressed: 
"I have difficulty understanding why people with particular religious beliefs find the expression of a different sort of beliefs to be offensive. "I can't understand why some people seem to have a different attitude when it comes to atheists."

Do States Define the Religions of its Citizens?

Is this ad inherently different from the message of organised religions? A building, a church, a temple, or a mosque is also a loud proclamation of the faith of believers. Buildings and religious congregations satisfy the needs of members, but without attacking other people faiths. Stating your viewpoint and professing your faith need not undermine or attack anyone else’s faith.
Most countries of the world are tolerant of different religions or religious views of inhabitants. States have however, often taken extreme positions of intolerance. For example, on February 27, 380 AD, the Byzantine emperor declared, "Catholic Christianity" the only legitimate imperial religion, ending state support for the traditional Roman religion and tolerance for others. 

Track Record of the Catholic Inquisition

The Catholic inquisition is seen as a very bloody and gruesome affair. 

30 external historians working together with Vatican authorities, however found that more women accused of witchcraft died in the Protestant countries than under the inquisition.

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Outside Europe, the inquisition was a different story. The Goa inquisition, between 1560 and 1812, was designed to punish relapsed New Christians (Jews and Muslims). From the scant records not destroyed in 1812, it seems to have brought to trial 16 200 out of which 64 were burned and 57 executed.

The Inquisition Symposium, established in 2000 by the Pope, found that the Inquisition burned 59 women in Spain, 36 in Italy, and four in Portugal. At the same time in Europe, civil justice brought to trial 100,000 women and burned 50,000 of them. About 26,000 were condemned as witches in Germany.

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Theocratic States in the World Today

Though in Norway, Finland and Sweden the Lutheran Church and the state are joined, currently only Islamic states are theocratic. Saudi Arabia requires all Saudi nationals to be Muslims. The state recognizes individuals’ rights of non-Muslims to worship in private. Israel is also a Jewish theocracy, with a population 76.1% Jewish, 16.2% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.6% Druze, with the remaining 3.9% of other religions. But, Israel allows freedom of religion by law even to Israeli citizens.

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The first modern Islamic state, Pakistan was founded on 14th August 1947. According to Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code you get the death penalty if you 
"by words . . . or visible representation . . . or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defile the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad." 
You can be sent to ten years in jail for outraging the religious feelings of any group. As of mid-2002, only the testimony of a single Muslim is sufficient to prosecute a non-Muslim on blasphemy charges.

Religion of Ruler Defined by Law

There are only few countries where the religion of the ruler is defined by law. 

  • Saudi Arabia requires all Saudi nationals to be Muslims. As a ruler of Saudi Arabia has to be a Saudi national, the ruler has to be a Muslim. 
  • The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran with its Shi’a Islam of the Jaafari (Usuli) school of thought also has no choice about religion.

  • The Emperor of Japan is currently the only ruler with the title of Emperor. In 1946, with pressure from US General MacArthur, he renounced his claim to being divine in human form (akitsumikami), but he did not renounce being a Aahitogami (a Kami or spirit being born in human form) or a descendant of Amaterasu (Sun Goddess in Shinto religion). 
The 44th US president Barack Obama can convert to Islam, Hare Krishna, Bahái, or any other faith. But, one other very liberal Western democracy has a religious straightjacket for its ruler. The constitutional law prevents the monarch of UK from being a Catholic. As the head of the Anglican Church and as the “Defender of Faith”, the monarch cannot but be an Anglican Protestant officially. This could be a toughie for Prince Charles (with his holistic views and penchant for alternative 'treatments') when his time comes.

Further References:
  • Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War, University of Hawai'i press, 1998, p.3
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
  • Encyclopædia Iranica. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University.
  • Levack, Brian P. The witch hunt in early modern Europe, Third Edition. London and New York: Longman, 2006.
  • Monter, William: Witch trials in Continental Europe, (in:) Witchcraft and magic in Europe, ed. Bengst Ankarloo & Stuart Clark, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2002, pp 12. 
  • Salomon, H. P. and Sassoon, I. S. D., in Saraiva, Antonio Jose. The Marrano Factory. The Portuguese Inquisition and Its New Christians, 1536-1765 (Brill, 2001), pp. 345-7.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

How to Call this Current Decade 2000-2009?

As this year 2009 begins with a miasma of gloom, financial turmoil and yet another inexhaustible cycle of violence, I can’t help reflecting on this past decade. But a question of terminology bothers me. 

Being old enough to admit remembering the sixties, growing up in the seventies and being a responsible adult in the eighties and nineties I am clueless as to how should I call this current decade. Here are some candidates I found in my search for the missing name.

The Ohs (0's) – Short, nifty and slightly slangish. Could you visualize yourself saying in thirty years time “We met and married during the Ohs, when we were all shaken by terrorism and the financial crash”?

The Zeros – Pretty cool. But this has a reductionary effect. “Look at her, constantly moaning about terrorism and the lack of corporate social responsibility – so zeros!”

The Oughts – That is how some people living between 1900-1909 used to refer to that decade in Britain. Hasn’t spread yet. Highly unlikely that Americans would use this term.

The Naughts – Has a nice twang to it. Also highly unlikely to spread. Imagine people born between 2000-2009 being called “the naughties”. Americans don’t use the word “naught” for zero. Besides, many Americans are too prissy for any public hint of forbidden pleasures.

The Oh-Ohs (00's) – This sounds a bit too artificial. With the global financial crisis and national debt clocks in many countries accelerating at the speed of light, this might signify people who owe and owe to everyone.

The Two Thousands (2000's) - Seems obvious though not very accurate. Will this also be used for the years 2000-2999?

"The Turn of the Century/Millennium" – Though rather long, this could become popular. But then it would include years on both sides, from 1995-2000 and from 2000-2010, wouldn’t it?

"The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World," – This is what the United Nations General Assembly would like to call this decade. This gives me a shudder, something akin to what they say in Facebookeese - OMG! Can you imagine anyone except bureaucrats using this?

D12K – The first decade of the second millennium. Very geekish. Can’t imagine anyone  actually using this.

The Bush era – This is hardly likely. People all over the world wouldn’t let America’s most miserable president dominate their vocabulary after he’s gone in a few days time. Some time ago, the words “miserable failure typed into Google search gave President Bush’s biography on the White House site. Google 'rectified' the page and here's the reasons why.

Terrorism Decade – Bläh! Most people are already tired of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Blair fearmongering. Other things happened during the decade also.
"I suppose we have the same problem today as with the 1900-1910 decade -- it's just awkward to say, 'The Zeroes,' or 'The Aughts,'" says David Kennedy, historian at Stanford. "
Matt Soergel wrests with this same issue in Florida Times Union,
Already in 2002, the BBC wrote that no one had any clue about how to call this decade. 

The dilemma still remains. Can you solve this problem?