The “religion of peace” and the politics of appeasement

The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. Billions of people find comfort and solace and peace. And that’s made brothers and sisters out of every race — out of every race.

-George W Bush, September 2001

Sufism is a celebration of diversity and pluralism, expressed in the words of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, that every people has its own path of truth, beliefs and focus of reverence. These words reflect the divine message of the Holy Prophet that there is no compulsion in religion; and also that to every people, we have appointed ways of worship which they observe.

Narendra Modi, March 2016

The media’s interpretation of Modi’s comments was “Islam is a religion of peace.” If that is to be believed, then two leaders of two separate, disparate democracies have made basically the same comment, 15 years apart. But Modi is also a member of a right-wing Hindu nationalist umbrella group, some of whose cells are openly anti – minority, directing their ire particularly towards Muslims. How can Modi then be making such comments contradictory to party interest? Hadn’t he said that he would not appease anyone before he became the Prime Minister of India? Well, reality check. Or realpolitik, if you like. Welcome to the world of appeasement.

Even as Europe is trying to cope with an exodus of refugees from mainly Muslim majority countries in West Asia, Central Asia and North Africa, and intra – EU differences over policies regarding their intake, and even as the wounds Europe had incurred from the 13/11 Paris attacks last year were beginning to heal, Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU has come under attack today, witnessing two separate explosions at the airport and at a metro station close to the EU’s core institutions, obviously targeting people of business and business itself. Witnesses apparently heard now-much-dreaded Arabic chants before the bombs went off, which means that the airport attack might have been suicide bombing, which has by now become a signature of jihadist mass murder and destruction. It’s now been determined that the terrorist group IS was involved in carrying out this latest spell of barbarism on humanity, and so there is little doubt as to where the injunction to kill, maim and terrorize came from. If someone had indeed chanted something in Arabic before committing their grisly suicide-murder, it’s a safe bet that he didn’t martyr himself for the cause of Communism at the heart of Brussels.

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Myths, facts and decision making: The human animal

The world is full of facts. People are facts. Therefore myths are facts. Sounds like a logical fallacy? Well, actually it isn’t. It’s just playing with semantics a little. What I mean to say here is that facts are what help us create a picture of reality. We talk about Homo sapiens as a species because we know individuals similar to us (or me) exist, and that we can group them together. So people are facts. It also seems almost inevitable that if there are people, there will be myths, gossip and so forth. There is always a limit to our perception of reality. However, our perception of reality -which can be mistaken at times- is in itself a component of reality. We need to understand that in order to understand ourselves. That is why studying myths belonging to a particular culture is an important exercise in trying to get an anthropological or sociological picture of that culture. The diversity of myths across cultures gives us an insight into the varying ways in which human societies evolved over time. Even in relatively modern, secular societies you have truckloads of urban legends that have little basis in reality. Religion, for example, is a collection of myths. A recent study published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making studied how susceptible humans are to meaningless bafflegab. Do they judge it to be more profound? This is what the study found:

We gave people syntactically coherent sentences that consisted of random vague buzzwords and, across four studies, these statements were judged to be at least somewhat profound. This tendency was also evident when we presented participants with similar real-world examples of pseudo-profound bullshit.
For example, many test subjects judged statements like these to be profound:
Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.
Which has no real meaning. Rather which begs an explanation and is given none. That is what obscurantism is all about. This kind of receptivity to pseudo-profound bullshit, of course, co – varied with other personality characteristics and indicators.
Those more receptive to bullshit are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.

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The Armenian genocide and the effect of fascism on the freedom to apologize

There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.
– Charles de Montesquieu

Earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the 70th anniversary of Japan’s official admission of defeat in WWII, gave a speech in which he made an oblique reference to the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers on South Korean “comfort women“, or women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers:

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.

While not a direct apology, there is an air of repentance there. Many wondered if an apology was forthcoming. After all, in the same speech, Shinzo Abe also said:

We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

We now know that Abe was not paying lip service to that commitment. Japan has now officially apologized to the comfort women -many of whom have died, and the rest are now very old- and had lived with the scars without any form of emotional closure. Japan has also announced a compensation package of $8.3 million, purportedly to “restore the dignity” of the women. Such a rather old-fashioned view of female dignity notwithstanding, at least steps are being taken in the right direction. The least governments can do for the crimes of their predecessors is apologize. Differences persist, however, but that is expected when atrocities were committed on such a large scale. If anything, this gesture should begin to restore Japan’s own dignity, which had been greatly besmirched by its fascist past.

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