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Archive for April, 2008

Absence

I shall be unable to access internet for the coming two months or so. Will miss this place.

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A Game of Many Sides

Do not ask God to be on your side.

Try to be on God’s side, instead.

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Whoever agrees, hopefully will lend themselves to studies in live human brain.

Their brains shall be cut up to learn about how brain works. Both Science and Humanity stands to gain from that experiment. It’s a win-win.

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Prisoners of Modern War

Neither the Islamic World nor the Western World are monoliths. They don’t even belong to the same class. Islam is a religion. West hardly is. More damaging to the idea is the fact that many westerners are Muslims.

The phrase, “Islam vs West,” unjustly sweeps every person, every idea and every ideology in the West under one garb.

If we look closely enough, actually much of what is called “Western Civilization” draws from “Islamic Civilization.” Where do you think the Renaissance philosophers got the inspiration that the clergy do not hold Absolute power and Authority?

Or call into mind the influence Islam had in the scientific adventures of Europe!

Much unwilling we are to acknowledge the fact, but the Western Civilization (I am referring to the moral codes universally accepted in the West) has much in common with Islam (again I am referring to moral codes universally accepted in Islamic world.)

Life is held precious in both. There are some form of freedom of speech in both (but both sets some limits to it. You may have to go to jail in the West if you say “Holocaust did not happen.”) Rule of law is common to both, even the ruler is, in principle, subject to rule of law.

I am of the opinion that we are actually in the same boat. And if we make a hole for the “others” to sink, we too are destined for the same fate.

The most important thing to realize that it is homo sapiens we are talking about. On both sides. If there are actually two sides.

One group of people want control over resources another group is sitting on. So the conflict is shaped along ethnic, religious, language and other barriers.

Therefore, it is true that religious identity gets used in shaping the conflict. Sometimes religion lends legitimacy to conflicts, too. But they rarely are the cause of conflicts.

The real reason why people fight is control over resources. Geography. Let ideas have their own discourse, and let geography do the same, but for God’s sake, don’t confuse them.

I don’t buy into the idea of of “Islam vs West.”

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The promised super-sleek IJTEMA 2.0 is here.

It was designed by Shazia and our beloved sister iMuslim. Brother Teakstar designed the beautiful header.

It has the following new features:

  1. Video and Audio on a separate panel to the right, for the multimedia savvy.
  2. Easier navigation

Over the next week, Multimedia comes to Ijtema:

    1. New video content thanks to a collaboration with HalalTube.com.
    2. Coverage of the Islamic Arts scene by Teakster.
    3. Podcast expert iMuslim is going to take care of audio podcasts.

Also winners of “New Year, New Hope” photo contest has been announced. Head over to IJTEMA to see the winners and some other highlights.

We hope to come back with NYNH contest next year, God Willing.

And while I am at it, let me also mention that MM also got a super sleek look.

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India has been reeling with rise of extremism on both sides of the camp- the Hindus and the Muslims. The most influential such groups is the Sangh Parivar, who will be my focus here. Rise of extremism in Muslims requires detailed analysis in it’s own “merit”, but the solutions are different in the two cases. The Muslim’s case has been analyzed in detail before at IM.
Hand in Hand, in India

Understanding the Problem

In India’s first freedom struggle, in 1857, at first both Hindus and Muslims participated in good proportions. They could not agree upon a thousand other things; but they could agree on one thing- they wanted the Mughals to return. Mughals did not mean an alien rulers to them. Mughals represented Indian self-rule. This was true until late 19th century. Until the British, cunningly enough, divided Indian History into two parts- Hindu era and the Muslim era. A black and white version of History.

The Indian freedom movement took a new turn when what is now called Indian nationalism evolved around the Hindu identity and was growing strong early last century. The option for India was no longer limited to a return to monarchy. But the new options were not very clear yet. There were the extreme opinions- India for Hindus, and there were inclusive Indianness. But all of them vaguely related Indianness around some form of Hindu identity.

However, there was not a single vision among them that could fit all Hindus, let alone all Indians. That process is still not complete. People still have that vague association of Hinduness with Indianness, but none have very strong appeal except among a small share of Indians. Neither the Indian identity, nor the Hindu identity have matured yet. Much of India identify first with their ethnicity and/or language above the Indian identity- resulting in stuff we are seeing in Assam, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, for example. Even the champions of the “Hindu cause”- Bala Thakerey and Modi has to stroke up regional sentiments because Hindu sentiments are not enough to get them votes.

And that is part of the reason why we have Hindutva. They envision a India around their version of Hinduness, in which Muslims are nothing but invaders, an interruption in the continuum of Hindu India. A fairly corrupt understanding of History, as any serious historian will tell you. But nevertheless an appealing one because of it’s simplicity. It seems to unify India as opposed to external enemies- and if the enemies are overcome, we shall be safe.

Beyond food, clothing and a roof- a man has other needs. He needs an identity, a sense of belonging and a feeling of purpose. Things that the present fragmented environ in India has little to offer. However, there is enthnicity, there is language and there is religion that can offer strong identity and feeling of belonging. If you notice, these are the factors that are shaping the conflicts. These identities are not causing the conflicts. Identity alone rarely causes conflict. Conflicts have economic/political causes in general. Identities provide cover and support for the underprivileged, and network for the privileged.

Crafting a Solution

As in every other country, we have some people who have simmering energy and enthusiasm. Much of those people who feel the urge to do something, are falling prey to the Hindutva brigade. They (The H Brigade) confirm their emotions and then inflict a sense of urgency. We need to divert these misguided but motivated people to good use, it will get used for all the wrong reasons. Instead of breaking down somebody’s (who they are made to see as enemy) house, they need to be taught to build for their own. Setting fire to a neighbor’s house has never been a good idea. Never will be.

Hinduism as it is, is a diverse range of cultures and ways of living. That, unless forced into one single mold, will not lend itself to a common identity. We need to solve this identity crisis from a wholly different angle. I think we should not focus on being Indian per se. Let this be something like Indians for humanity. Let the uniting identity be being a human.

And there is a weapon in our hand that we rarely use- the constitution. In fact little do we know what a useful it can be. It has vision of universal appeal to offer. Indian constitution is one of the best in the world. We have woman’s suffrage and property rights right from the inception of the Indian state. The constitution also recognizes that different religions have their own needs for civic law. We need to learn the constitution and cultivate respect for it. We need to learn our responsibilities and rights.

We should include the basic tenets of the constitution in our schools. More respect for laws can only do good to our society. At the moment laws only apply to the weak. The rich and the powerful are mostly out of reach of law! Especially the politicians. Especially them.

Epilogue

I shall end by quoting two stalwarts.

1.

Ajatashatru’s kingdom and the Licchabi states were nearby. He wanted to conquer the Licchabi states and sent Barshakar as emissary to Buddha asking him for suggestions and blessings. Buddha did not like the idea. Instead of answering Barshakar, he asked his disciple Ananda

Ananda, is it true that Licchabis discuss state matters among thems regularly?

Yes, that’s what I’ve heard- bhantey*

Ananda, as long as they do that, nobody can harm them.

Buddha paused, and then spoke again

Ananda, are they honest? Do they punish the unjust and do justice- even if it is hard for them?

Ananda confirmed him. Budhha then asked him about the old, women and the minorities, and when Ananda confirmed that they (Licchabis) treated them with love and respect, Budhha asserted-

These qualities will help them survive for long.

2.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said- what destroyed the earlier generations was that the weak were punished for their crimes, while the influential got away with theirs.

In simpler terms, it is justice and rule of law that gives a society it’s strength. The moment the powerful (be that Bal Thakarey or Modi) can evade justice and law, it hurts the well being of the entire society.

FOOTNOTES:

* (“bhantey”- a title of respect)
[Image: Sakura]

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The Eligible Bachalor Paradox

Probably all of us have at some point heard this: so many girls to marry, so few boys!

Well,

Consider the classic version of the marriage proposal: A woman makes it known that she is open to a proposal, the man proposes, and the woman chooses to say yes or no. The structure of the proposal is not, “I choose you.” It is, “Will you choose me?” A woman chooses to receive the question and chooses again once the question is asked.

The idea of the woman choosing expressed in the proposal is a resilient one. The woman picking among suitors is a rarely reversed archetype of romantic love that you’ll find everywhere from Jane Austen to Desperate Housewives. Or take any comic wedding scene: Invariably, it’ll have the man standing dazed at the altar, wondering just how it is he got there.

Obviously, this is simplified—in contemporary life, both sides get plenty of chances to be selective. But as a rough-and-ready model, it’s not bad, and it contains a solution to the Eligible-Bachelor Paradox.

You can think of this traditional concept of the search for marriage partners as a kind of an auction. In this auction, some women will be more confident of their prospects, others less so. In game-theory terms, you would call the first group “strong bidders” and the second “weak bidders.” Your first thought might be that the “strong bidders”—women who (whether because of looks, social ability, or any other reason) are conventionally deemed more of a catch—would consistently win this kind of auction.

But this is not true. In fact, game theory predicts, and empirical studies of auctions bear out, that auctions will often be won by “weak” bidders, who know that they can be outbid and so bid more aggressively, while the “strong” bidders will hold out for a really great deal. You can find a technical discussion of this here. (Be warned: “Bidding Behavior in Asymmetric Auctions” is not for everyone, and I certainly won’t claim to have a handle on all the math.) But you can also see how this works intuitively if you just consider that with a lot at stake in getting it right in one shot, it’s the women who are confident that they are holding a strong hand who are likely to hold out and wait for the perfect prospect.

This is how you come to the Eligible-Bachelor Paradox, which is no longer so paradoxical. The pool of appealing men shrinks as many are married off and taken out of the game, leaving a disproportionate number of men who are notably imperfect (perhaps they are short, socially awkward, underemployed). And at the same time, you get a pool of women weighted toward the attractive, desirable “strong bidders.”

Where have all the most appealing men gone? Married young, most of them—and sometimes to women whose most salient characteristic was not their beauty, or passion, or intellect, but their decisiveness.

Evolutionary psychologists will remind us that there’s a long line of writing about “female choosiness” going back to Darwin and the male peacocks competing to get noticed by “choosy” mates with their splendid plumage. But you don’t have to buy that kind of reductive biological explanation (I don’t) to see the force of the “women choose” model. You only have to accept that for whatever socially constructed reason, the choice of getting married is one in which the woman is usually the key player. It might be the man who’s supposed to ask the official, down-on-the-knee question, but it usually comes after a woman has made the central decision. Of course, in this, as in all matters of love, your experience may vary.

There may be those who look at this and try to derive some sort of prescription, about when to “bid,” when to hold out, and when (as this Atlantic story urges) to “settle.” If you’re inclined to do that, approach with care. Game theory deals with how best to win the prize, but it works only when you can decide what’s worth winning.

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