From Stockholm

More (I know, but there are a lot of good items today, and I want to quote from them). From the always-rewarding Ishtiaq Ahmed – who teaches political science in Stockholm.

Are human beings united or estranged in their essence? Tragedies such as the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan bring out the best and the worst in human beings. We have heard how people volunteered to help, sometimes risking their own lives, when involved in rescue operations…Everyday we see foreigners engaged in providing medical aid, food, blankets and other help. They too represent the best qualities in human beings. We should never forget their sense of duty to fellow human beings.

That’s exactly what I meant the other day when I said that the guy who kicked Reginald Denny in the head might on a different day have rushed to rescue people from danger after an earthquake. I think that’s true. Disasters (can) bring out the best in people. We’re moody, we’re labile, we’re flighty and changeable and unsettled; we can hate people one minute and run into danger to save them the next. Or we can live peaceably next door to them for decades and then after listening to the radio for awhile decide to kill them all.

The most shameful and disgraceful reaction was that of Islamic obscurants who – even before the full tragedy had unfolded – had in their enthusiasm to score cheap and vulgar points against the Musharraf regime, opined that those hit by the earthquake were facing divine punishment because they had done nothing to prevent the Pakistan government from allying itself with the Americans against fellow Muslims such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda and being soft on India and Israel. I have, in subsequent exchanges with such utterly despicable custodians of Islam, demanded an explanation as to how schoolchildren and those several hundred pupils at a Quran school who also perished while reciting the sacred scriptures could do anything to change Pakistan’s foreign policy. There is, of course, no answer to give but we are told that we mortals do not understand how God works in human societies.

Yes, the Pat Robertson school of thought. If it ever rains hard in Dover, Pennsylvania, well – it’s all up with the people there because God won’t lift a finger. He’s too pissed off.

Why inflict so much pain and suffering on ordinary creatures, many of whom barely managed to stay alive even under normal circumstances? The answer one gets is silence or prevarication but never an admission that when they make such a statement they start playing God themselves and that is wrong. I have yet to meet an obscurantist who ever admits having made a mistake in interpreting the will of God.

And they not only start playing God themselves, they cheer on a God who inflicts pain and suffering on innocent impoverished people in order to make an unrelated point.

Consequently all philosophy and religious beliefs should be judged as benign or malevolent on the basis of how ideas are used to either advance the notion of a common humankind with the same needs for respect, love and security or to preach permanent war and hatred deriving from differences of faith and colour and so on. We can also safely assume that although each individual is unique, our survival as a species has been possible because of our ability to cooperate. We are united in our essence and not estranged.

Yes. Just say no to those who preach permanent war and hatred – no matter how passionate their grievance, no matter how intense their conviction, no matter how strong their feeling, no matter authentic their tradition. Just, No.

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