Appreciation of return is directly proportional to investment

In my life every developmental activity that I invested in was done at a personal cost. In one case, I sold my car and borrowed money (which I repaid over three years) to pay the fee to go to the IIMA for my MBA. In another case I spent every cent of my holiday allowance for 12 years to learn how to be a trainer. In a third case I took a loan to do a certification course at the Carnegie Melon University in the US.

What does that mean? It means that for 12 years from 1983-1994 we didn’t take any vacation. I got married in 1985 and my wife supported me fully in my quest for learning. She would go to her parents place while I went to this or that school or this or that course or more often than not, played apprentice to this or that consultant or trainer; traveling third class by train, sleeping in dingy hotels and cleaning black boards and getting tea and coffee for the trainer. In the evening we’d go over what he did and why and I’d take notes.

What does that mean? It means that for the entire duration of that period (and remember at the time I didn’t know it would be 12 years) we didn’t own a TV, couldn’t change our car (I had a beat up Ambassador which spent more time in the garage than on the road; and a Royal Enfield motorcycle), or as I already mentioned, take a holiday.

But those were there most satisfying days of my life.

And of course once I had paid the price of enrollment into the leadership cadre of life, the returns started. Not that suddenly things became easy. They didn’t. Tests continued and continue to this day. But I had enough history to see them as excitement. I developed the confidence to face them from a position of strength and to laugh at the challenge they presented. But that was because of the risks I took and the investment I made at a time when there was no return to show at the end of it.

Biggest lesson I learnt in life was to realise that life is the name for the choices we make. Nobody compels us to make that choice. That’s why it’s called a choice. But every choice opens a door. The seed is what you plant in the earth. The harvest is what you hold in your hand. But unless you let go what you have in your hand and plant it in the earth, there will be no harvest. But when you do plant the seed there’s always a harvest which is more than the seed you planted. The choice is ours to make.
Excuses don’t change either the reality or the result. No seed, no harvest.

So today when people complain about the cost of any learning activity I tell them, ‘Don’t do it.’

Because if they can’t see the value in it, it won’t benefit them anyway. So why waste money? Go watch a Formula 1 race or a cricket game. That’s what slaves and victims do. 

Investment in self-development is strictly a leaders only activity.

Do I sound unsympathetic? Good. I am a great believer in congruence. The alternative in Arabic is called Nifaaq (hypocrisy). And a hypocrite, I’m not.

The One who controls the language controls the debate

May Allahﷻ help this Ummah but we are living in very difficult times. The biggest challenge seems to be to maintain emotional and psychological equilibrium in the midst of the battering as if in a storm. While we are battered by storms, some of our own making, we still have to keep walking on the path of life, trying to make sense of whatever little we can see through the haze and fog and keep hoping that when we step off into the darkness of the unknown, there will be something solid to stand on or we will be taught how to fly.

 

In times like this it is only natural to fall into the trap of defining ourselves in the terms that the propaganda wordsmiths set for us and to respond in their language without realizing that by definition, it is to our disadvantage.

 

Language has and will always be a weapon in the hands of the experts to be used to color the picture in the hue of their choice. For example, British historians called the 1857 War of Indian Independence, “The Sepoy Mutiny”. Intrinsic in the term being the need to legitimize the colonial rule. If you call it a ‘Mutiny’ then any draconian measure to crush it becomes justifiable and that is precisely what they did. Of course, to our own eternal shame as Indians, Maratha and Sikh troops fought under the command of British officers and did the deed and literally hundreds of thousands of brave Indian patriots, Hindu and Muslim, were brutally murdered. Same story in the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre where on the orders of Col. Reginald Dyer troops of the 2-9th Gurkhas, the 54th Sikhs and the 59th Sind Rifles, fired on a gathering of Sikhs. Ask how and why Sikhs killed Sikhs? The power of language and how it can brainwash you so that you no longer know friend from foe.

 

Today the same tactics are being used where freedom fighters are called ‘insurgents’ and ‘terrorists’. Their brave attempts to fight an overwhelmingly superior force invading and illegally occupying their countries are called ‘acts of terrorism’. And the real terrorizing of the whole world is called ‘War on terror’ and the people committing these terrorist acts are called ‘democratic forces.’

 

When they die in this unequal fight at the rate of about 1 to every 100 of the freedom fighters (ICH: as on August 29, 2007 – 3732 US troops to 1,025,092 Iraqis) their death is called ‘heroic’. And when whole neighborhoods and cities are wiped out in genocidal acts, this is called ‘collateral damage’. When random acts of violence happen where misguided people take the law into their own hands and attack innocent civilians, their actions are and are called ‘dastardly’. But when bomber pilots of the so-called ‘Democratic Forces’ shoot missiles that destroy hospitals, schools, mosques, bomb shelters with men, women and children smashed to rubble it is called a ‘surgical strike’. I can go on but won’t.

 

The point I want to make here is not about what the wordsmiths of the fascists do. But about our own people falling into their trap. For example, as we speak Buddhists in Myanmar are carrying out a state sponsored genocide of the Rohinga people who are inhabitants of Burma/Myanmar for centuries. Men, women and children are being slaughtered, burnt alive and their homes, mosques and schools are being torched. All this while the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama are silent witnesses who don’t even speak a word against the oppressors. I believe it is essential to look at the reality and stop fooling ourselves if we want to find a solution to the problem. As long as we keep calling it a problem of Islamic fundamentalism there is no solution to the problem. Once we accept that the problem is to do with the ongoing push for Western Imperialism (albeit today in the name of ‘democracy’) push for global domination, then we will be well on the way to solving the problem.

 

Frankly I am not even against the idea of global domination because I recognize it to be the natural outcome of economic and military power. However, it is the means adopted to dominate which must be questioned. When these means sow the seeds of global suffering and slavery hiding behind a veritable fog of lofty ideals, then they must be resisted and exposed for what they are. For a nation to seek markets is not wrong provided others can share in its economy and are not reduced to abject slavery albeit in another name. However, the West, which is the ideological heir to the Roman Empire, continues to use the language of Julius Caesar and Imperial Rome – ‘bringing civilization to barbarians in the name of the Republic’. That enabled them to create a state which was based on the logic of perpetual war which was the engine behind their commerce and trade. I believe that for anyone wanting to understand global politics today, reading a history of the Roman Empire is essential.

 

To return to our subject of how language is used as a tool, even weapon, of domination, unfortunately we see independent journalists also using the language of the oppressors when defining Muslims and calling them ‘Islamist’, ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and so on. This is a big mistake and an indication of mental subjugation that many of us have become the victims of.

 

Muslims or Muslim countries have not invaded any other country. They are not the ones who are imposing their economic, religious or moral system on anyone. They are not the ones stealing others’ assets, looting their countries or attempting to overthrow their governments. They are not the ones who are imprisoning others for no cause, torturing them in heinous ways or passing life sentences on them because they demanded justice and spoke against oppression. The citizens of these countries, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and others, who happen to be Muslims are fighting for their rights. The right to life, to dignity, to not being murdered, tortured or raped. The right to education and clean water not contaminated by depleted uranium or sewage from the illegal settlements deliberately being dumped into the Palestinian aquifer that is the only source of their drinking water. The right of their children to play in the street without being picked off by snipers taking pot-shots at human beings. Yet they are called fundamentalist terrorists, most painfully of all, by their own simple-minded brethren.

 

We as bystanders have a very important task. One that history will hold us accountable for and which we will answer to our Creator for on the Day when all will be called to account for what they did. And that is the task of bearing witness. Being truthful recorders of what is happening. We may not be able to change what is happening or to stop it from happening. But we can bear witness to it and name the beast correctly. This is a sacred duty of every citizen, irrespective of nationality, religion or race. To bear witness to the blatant oppression that has been unleashed on the world. Remember my friends to bear witness truthfully and not to use the language of the oppressors when you do it.

 

Call genocide, genocide. Not ethnic cleansing or riots. Call bombing cities and killing civilians as such, not collateral damage. And call Muslims, Muslims, not Islamists, Talibanists or Fundamentalists. ‘Terrorism’ is bad English. Terror is not an ‘ism’ – and ideology but a tactic used by various ‘isms’ to achieve their own ends. Anti-Semitism is to speak against Semitic people. While one may argue the purpose of isolating a single race to become the target of the world’s love, if one is to accept that Anti-Semitism is a crime, then to say anything disparaging about the Arabs will be a crime as Arabs are as Semitic as Palestinian Jews while European Jews are not Semitic at all. As in the story of the white bull, we die not on the day they come for us, but on the day we fail to raise our voice against the first innocent killed. The greatest cowardice is to stay silent in the face of injustice and the pinnacle of faith is to speak the truth in the face of the tyrant.

When the journey is the destination


When social change is protracted and long it produces a situation that has no closure. There is apparently no end to it. No classic ‘arrived state’. No final shining land of perpetual sunshine, timely rain, green fields or whatever our imagination tells us is waiting for us. In such a situation, the journey itself acquires enhanced, even supreme significance. Where there is a clear destination, one can afford to ignore the hardships of the journey, remain focused on the destination and everything else will pale into insignificance. But where, as is our situation today, there is apparently no end in sight, every minute detail of the journey is noticed, has an effect and produces some result, good or bad in our lives.
Today we have created a society which is so inward looking, so selfish – short term, instant gratification – and so commercially oriented that we seem to have lost all perspective about our lives. We don’t think of the future, be it in terms of the environment, or the socio-politics we have created for ourselves, or even in terms of our own personal development. We only think of what we can do to make money. No matter what the method. No matter what the activity. No matter what else we have to sacrifice in order to do that. No matter what happens to others in the process.
One of the major illnesses of our times which is in epidemic proportions is the unwillingness to exercise the mind to listen to those who don’t think like us and to engage with them in a spirit of enquiry with rational, logical and factual arguments. We are fast seeing a majority of people whose answer to anything that differs from their pet theories is either to close their ears or to try to drown the arguments in the cacophony of their own raucous, strident bleating accusing the ‘other’ of everything from disloyalty, lack of patriotism to sacrilege. As if in fact simply shouting will make the inner discomfort that instigated it in the first place, go away. What they fail to realize is, that the discomfort is a sign that their hearts are still alive.
And that if they shout long and loudly enough, then over time, their hearts will die. Then there will be no discomfort because the dead feel no pain.
Thabo Mbeki, the scholarly former President of South Africa said, “One day I pray that I will find time to write or otherwise address the issue of the calamitous retreat from the habit of thinking in our country, the atrophy of meaningful critical intellectual engagement, communication, and the occupation of the realm of ideas largely by dearth of originality, superstition, opinionated prejudice, stereotypes and a herd mentality.” President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, 1stJanuary, 2000
I wish I could say that this is a habit peculiar to South Africans. It isn’t. ‘Calamitous retreat from the habit of thinking’ is a universal problem today. And it is a very serious problem and all the more so because nobody seems to want to even recognize it, let alone doing something about it.
The visual media, corporate controlled – network television has played a very major and powerful role in this process of creating closed minds constantly focused towards pleasurable gratification and with the attention span of a monkey. We have an entire generation today, less than 5% of whom read serious books, less than 15% of whom read newspapers (scanning headlines is not reading) and almost all of whom avidly watch television. The spin doctors and mind benders of TV realised this very early and built huge empires based on lies. So today, we eat what the tube tells us, we dress the way the tube tells us, we go for holidays to places which the tube tells us are good. We watch serials and see ourselves in the lives of the actors. If someone were to hook up diagnostic machines to us as we watched our favourite serials, we would have hard evidence of how these fantasies actually affect us physiologically.
Do you see the power of the carefully crafted image and the attention span of monkeys that we have been indoctrinated with? It is not for nothing that the price tag for a 30 second spot on Fox TV is in excess of $700,000. Why? Because you are the people who make it Prime Time – glazed eyes, dropped jaws, slouched bodies with the remote control to your thoughts and emotions in the hands of the producers, to switch them on or off at will.
The tube today can make or break presidents, popes, governments and companies. The tube decides who we will consider good and who we will call evil. Both without a shred of independent evidence. The tube tells us how to vote, who to elect and who to leave out in the cold. And we do it. The tube tells us what to eat and what to drink. And we do it. The tube tells us what to buy. The tube tells us what to sell. The tube tells us what to believe and what to deny, because it is not on TV.  The tube is illusion. We are real. But we have learnt to make the illusion real by living it in our lives. Passions acted out by others on the screen while we slouch in our chairs and eat popcorn (or time-pass phalli) believing that it will never touch us. We are told that we are free to choose how we live. We forget that the choice is never free.
We have been conditioned to suspend our thought, to suspend our judgment and to believe unquestioningly what we are shown. Strangely we do this though we know all about film producing, photographic morphing, splicing and all the techniques whereby any fantasy can be made to seem real on the little screen in front of us.
In order to succeed in reaching this stage, the spin doctors made some changes in our minds. They first convinced us that happiness lies in accumulating possessions. And if we don’t have the money to buy things, no problem, as there are always credit cards.
But that to possess things is the most important reason we live. And then they did another change. They told us that it was not only about what you had, it was also about what the next person had. If you had something that was as good as, or God forbid, older, less ‘stylish’ (they also told us what to call stylish), less shiny or less ‘smart’ than what the Jones, Biharis or Khans have then you are a failure.
So it is important not only to have things, but to have things that others can envy, throw out what they have and go out and acquire what you will then have to envy. So envy became the major virtue.
You have to be someone who others would always envy. Not because of who you were but because of what you had. And to tell you the truth, they made these two things one. “You are what you have”, they said. “Your possessions define you”, they said. And we believed them. Your car, pants, underwear, handbag, watch, shoes, neighbourhood, drink and food, all define you. They are all statements of what your worth as a human being is. How else do you explain a handbag that costs $ 125,000?
Or more correctly, how do you explain the mentally retarded idiots who buy them? But this is precisely what drives our commercial society and we have agreed to benchmark our worth in this way. Mission successfully accomplished. The mindset has been changed to worship the God of Commerce. The world is not godless as some people believe. Our God is Money. The major change that happened in the modern world is that we changed from being theocracies to being commerce driven. That is why atheism is the religion of Europe today and is fashionable among many who are influenced by Western education.
We are a society that pays its teachers the least and its entertainers the most. We are a society in which someone who dances half naked on the stage or screen or hits a ball across a net or into a goal or drives a fast car on a track makes more in one hour than a teacher who shapes the minds of a generation can make in a lifetime. Yet we wonder why we find ourselves increasingly in a society that is morally bankrupt, socially irresponsible and intellectually dead. I don’t mean that nobody is good or wise. I’m talking about the majority of people today. As they say, ‘One swallow doesn’t make the spring.’ The majority defines a society. True bankruptcy is a full belly and an empty soul. But what do you say for a society which has an empty belly and an empty soul. The writers of proverbs didn’t foresee that, I believe.
Just ask yourself about the modern TV generation – What do they read? What conversation do they have except discussing the icons of today? What do they produce of intellectual or moral value? There was a time when ordinary people in Delhi and Lucknow wrote and recited poetry, where the hallmark of scholarship was your ability to express yourself in prose or poetry. There was a time when the schoolchildren in England read Tennyson, Macaulay and Homer. So did we who went to English speaking schools in former British colonies. But today? There is a change, right?
Entertainment is such a successful industry because we have made real life so stressful that people need to forget it at least for a little while in order to be able to cope with it again the next day. But in that case, if to become forgetful is the objective, then entertainment has to achieve it and can’t be anything that is thoughtful in nature. Consequently people have little or no time or inclination to think about their lives, where they are taking them, what may be other options available to them and so on. People just want to forget their lives, their cares, their worries and get themselves lost in a world of make-believe. We live in a cycle of continuous transactional pressure with interludes of deliberately induced forgetfulness.
What are the intellectual conceptual tools we need to get out of this morass that we find ourselves in?
I believe that in such a situation there are two very important cognitive tools that are essential to acquire, if one wants to escape the negative stress the environment produces and if one wants to make sense of what is going on.
And they are:
  1. Put the present in perspective and see a pathway ahead
  2. Conceptualise a strategy and a roadmap to implement it
Perspective is the single most important tool that I believe we need to equip ourselves with, today. Perspective is the ability to hold two pictures simultaneously in your mind: Where you are now and where you want to be.
Imagine yourself lost in a desert. A land characterised by similarity, constancy, lack of significant topography. A flat plain, stretching away on all sides as far as you can see. In such a situation the most common thing that happens to people who keep walking searching for the right path  is that without realising it, they walk in circles and obviously never reach anywhere. The only way to get out of such a potentially lethal situation is to find a high place, a rocky outcrop, a lone tree, a hillock; climb on top of it and then try to see where the way out lies. This is my description of perspective: to be able to hold two pictures in the mind simultaneously. If you think about this, it is impossible to give anyone directions to reach anywhere unless you know where they are at that point in time. All directions can only be given with reference to a starting point. So to be able to define where we are and to have clarity about where we want to be, is critical in all situations in life.
Perspective helps us to make sense of what is happening in the context of history; both our own personal history as well as a broader history of our social group, community, country and world. It helps to develop hypothesis about possible outcomes of current trends and practices. It helps us to prepare mentally as well as materially for possible outcomes. It helps us to take advantage of windows of opportunity. It helps us to prepare for possible dangers, some of which may well be very serious. Mankind gave up its reliance on raw instinct when it found perspective. Today we are dangerously in a situation where we have already lost our instinct and have no time or tools to see our lives in perspective. We are lost but don’t even realise it.
Perspective comes from studying history. Not for the stories of kings. But to ask ourselves what we can learn from it for ourselves today. Sadly history that is taught in our schools is not taught with this objective at all. We concentrate on events, with little or no focus on what led to the event or what we can learn from it that we can apply today. This must change. We need to study history for its lessons. Then we need to define ourselves as we are today in the context of what we read. For example in Indian history we have a period roughly from 1300 to 1900 where we were ruled by various invaders who were small in number but who by successfully exploiting our internal conflicts managed to get some of us to work against ourselves. That gave them the ruling authority and they were the kings. Divide and rule was the golden principle. We learnt it but didn’t learn how to defend ourselves against it. 
Proof? Since 1947 we in India have been independent but because we don’t seem to have learnt the lessons of history, we are still being exploited in precisely the same ways, by vested interests within ourselves acting as agents for outsiders. And we continue to pay the price. Surely 600 years is time enough to learn, isn’t it? Or it should be.
The second cognitive tool that we need is to be able to conceptualise solutions. This is a little more complex as it needs two related processes:

1.       Recollecting data from the past
2.       Conceptualise the way forward

Recollecting data from the past
Facing facts is never easy. As they say, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.’  This stage – facing of facts – is the foundation of the whole exercise of making sense of our own past. A method I teach is to draw a story board of your life in pictures. Start from your earliest childhood memory and work along to the present. Draw all that you can remember. Both the happy and the sad stories. Try not to write any words. Draw only pictures. This accesses your right brain spatial recognition process and enables you to see patterns in your drawing.
Once you have completed the drawing then ask yourself, ‘What is the pattern that I am seeing in this? What is the lesson for me today?’ While doing this, try to identify the thresholds in your life from the drawing. What were the critical incidents where you took decisions that changed the course of your life? Especially what were the decisions that you took which went against conventional wisdom and accepted practice of the time? How did these work out for you? What were the lessons you learnt? Feel free now to make notes as you go from picture to picture. What you are writing is not a description of the picture but the lesson you learnt at each stage in your life.
The key in this entire exercise is frankness. Brutal frankness with yourself. Be not an exporter of blame. Embrace responsibility. This is the most difficult part for many of us. We have learnt to take comfort in blaming others, circumstances, society, country or in the absence of anything, God and fate. To switch from this to accepting that we are the architects of our own destinies is not easy. But that is the essence of Islam – to make the effort and trust in Allah. That is the meaning of Tawakkul. Allah feeds the bird but not in the nest. So be brutally frank with yourself for it’s your own life.
There is no alternative to owning responsibility. If we don’t accept the responsibility for what went wrong, the power to repair it is not given to us. The beauty of accepting responsibility for our lives is that it puts the power to change destiny also in our hands. If I made it, I can remake it. And that is an enormously empowering thought. Think of all the other possibilities that may have existed at the time and what other options you had. Try to think of what might have been the result if you had chosen a route different from the one you chose. The idea of all this analysis is not to send you into a state of depression but to enhance your sense of achievement when you realise that the risks you took panned out for you and you struck gold. Sense of achievement is directly proportional to the magnitude of difficulty surmounted. And remember it is difficulty in the specific circumstances of your own life. Nobody else needs to be impressed with it. You don’t need to be dependent on anyone else’s approval. You know how difficult it was for you and that is enough.
Conceptualise the way forward
The value of history is in its lessons. To work with them one must convert them into action plans. At this stage it may be useful also to take some external advice from someone who can add his or her own perspective to your plans. The roadmap you create must mention the resources you need for each stage, the key people whose help you will need, your plan to get this help and resources and the time by which each stage is expected to be completed. The more rigorous you are with these details, the more beneficial will be your roadmap. Measurement is absolutely essential.
Without measurement nothing can be mapped or assessed. Timelines are what differentiate an intention from a mere wish. A timeline demonstrates that you are serious about what you intend to do. Timelines are critical.
Once you have done the analysis of your own life history and put your life in perspective, then you ask yourself, “What now? What are the opportunities available to me today? What are the opportunities that are likely to become available in the near or mid-term future? What do I need to do in order to prepare myself to take advantage of the opportunities?”

Freedom of Expression or Freedom to Blaspheme?


Freedom of expression must not be confused with freedom from the consequences of expression. Exercising freedom and abusing it are not the same. The latter forfeits the former. Just because we are free to express ourselves, it doesn’t free us from the responsibility for what we express. We are responsible for what we say and do and for the consequences thereof and so must consider carefully what we want to express. This is the basis of what we call civilized socially responsible behavior.
Once again we have an attack on the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) on whom it seems to be open season all the year round for people to take pot shots. And then cry foul when those who love him get upset. The rule seems to be, ‘I will say or do whatever I want but you must not get offended.’ Another rule, ‘Prove your maturity and culture by not being offended by insults.’
Seems strange indeed to us who are brought up in a culture where honor is not just important, it is everything. Respect for our signs and symbols is what our sense of honor is based on. And there is no symbol of our honor other than Allah Himself, that is more important than the Prophet (Peace be on him). So if someone insults him, it is very natural for a Muslim to feel sad and very mad. The claim of those who make these attacks is, ‘But we are not offended when someone blasphemes against Jesus or Moses. So how can you be offended when we insult Mohammed (Peace be on them all)?’ That is like saying, ‘I am not offended if you curse my parents and so you should also not be offended if I curse your parents.’
Our response is of course, ‘We have never cursed your parents in the first place. And secondly if you are not offended if someone curses your parents it is a sign that you are lacking in a sense of honor. That you are shameless. How can you demand that we also become shameless?’ For the record, find me a film made by a Muslim which abuses Jesus or Moses? You won’t find it because we revere them as prophets of Allah. So when Muslims have not done anything to abuse Christianity or Judaism, why should they be subjected to abuse from Christians and Jews (the people who allegedly made this ridiculous film) and be compelled to accept it?
I am not for a moment justifying or countenancing the violent protests and the unfortunate killing of innocent people. I have already spoken against that on several occasions since it happened. However I am writing this to request all responsible people to seriously wake up and start asking some pointed questions. One of which should be, ‘What was the need for this film in the first place? What is wrong with letting people believe whatever they want? What is wrong with leaving people alone with their religions – which is a basic human right?’
I was interested to read one of the comments of the learned viewers of the film who said, ‘In all their history, Muslims have contributed to the development of mankind less than a bunch of donkeys.’ What do you do with such ignorance? Another one demands that he will screen this film along with clips from other films which are insulting to Hindus, Christians and Jews and he demands that people must sit and watch all of them with equanimity. Isn’t that the strangest statement? For someone to make this insane demand is not considered insane. But when someone protests at this unprovoked attack on his honor, he is guilty of intolerance.

Why must people be forced to tolerate insults? Why must people be forced to sacrifice their honor just because those who have no honor want to exercise their fancy? Is this fair? Is anyone interested in justice anymore?
If we go by this logic then the right to safety and security must be balanced by the right to terrorize a population. The right to education must be balanced by the right to remain ignorant. The right to health must be balanced by the right to sickness. The right to marriage must be balanced by the right to rape and so on. Crazy, isn’t it? Just as crazy as the call that the right to freedom of religion must be balanced by the right to blaspheme any religion. These people want to impose the rule on us that if the followers of any religion want to practice their religion then they must be prepared to accept the fact that all that they hold holy and sacred will be blasphemed, insulted, degraded and desecrated by other people who don’t care about their feelings and they must accept this treatment without complaint.
Doesn’t that sound like a gross violation of human rights? It does, to me. Violence to human rights is not only physical violence. It is also violence that is psychological and mental. Ask any divorce lawyer who is suing on the basis of mental torture. This is an accepted principal in law. Freedom is defined as something that you are permitted to do as long as it does not violate someone else’s freedom; does not hurt someone else; does not harm anyone else. That is why the famous saying, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.” If we define freedom as the unbridled right of someone to do whatever he or she wants irrespective of what harm this action or speech may do to someone else’s dignity, reputation, relationships or position, then we would have complete chaos and anarchy.
Defined in the way the makers of this ridiculous film and their supporters are demanding, freedom of speech must be rechristened ‘freedom to abuse’, ‘freedom to hurt’, ‘freedom to damage’, freedom to destroy’. This is a completely senseless argument and this behavior is not civilized at all. It is barbarism and oppression at its worst. So what is so different when it is done by film makers with the target being not one man or woman but an entire population? If anything it must make the crime humungous in magnitude. Like murder, which when it is perpetrated against an entire population becomes a holocaust and genocide. Ask the Jews who were the victims of this at the hands of Hitler. Of course that was before the West invented the term ‘collateral damage’. Otherwise they too, like the Iraqis and Palestinians, would have been mere statistics rather than innocent people who suffered one of the worst man-made disasters in the history of mankind. Unfortunately it seems to be by no means the last.
Yet we are asked to accept this ridiculous argument that if we are practicing Christians then we must accept films that show Jesus as a fornicating rock star or his pictures holding a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in another. If we are practicing Hindus then we must accept the pictures of the gods we worship, on toilet seats. And if we are practicing Muslims then we must accept the most obviously hatred filled images of the one person who we hold the most holy, Mohammad, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be on him). And all of us, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others who have not been targeted yet are told that we have to accept someone’s ‘right’ to indulge his perversion at our expense. And if we dare to protest, then we will be labeled uncivilized, terrorists and anti-human.
In this version of civilization, it is civilized behavior to insult a religion. It is uncivilized behavior to protest against that insult. Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But it seems to make sense to a small minority (my assumption) of people who are seeking to impose their warped sense of values on the rest of the world. The question is what should be our reaction? Ideally I would love to ignore this thing entirely. But I’m afraid that it may only make such people bolder and eventually we will get to a point where we can’t ignore it anymore and then the reactions are more destructive.
In my view it is important for people of all religions to come together and stand together to ensure that freedom of worship and freedom of expression is ensured for everyone. And that this is done with an understanding of responsibility for expression. There can be no freedom of worship or expression when some people insult and abuse what someone else worships or reveres. Insulting someone personally is not accepted as a freedom in any civilized society. If someone did that they would become liable for legal action and punishment. So how can it be accepted to insult someone or something that an individual worships or considers holy?
Will someone explain this insanity to me please??

Tyranny of the Few


Headlines scream out at you: ’80 killed in terrorist attack on two Pakistani mosques.’  ‘Lal Masjid threatens to give the call for jihad.’ ‘Clash with security forces leaves 16 students dead.’ And all this accompanied by pictures of women in burqas wielding lathis longer than themselves. Talk of women power!!  Another one: ‘Flaming jeep drives into Glasgow airport.’ (No, it was not Lucifer trying to catch a flight either). ‘Doctor from Bangalore was the driver.’  Malala Yusufzai is shot because she wants to educate women. Shot by people who claim to be the representatives of Islam and Muslims. So let me begin by saying that I am Muslim and they don’t represent me. Nobody who can shoot a 14 year old girl represents me. Nobody who makes war on women and children represents me. Islam doesn’t teach anyone to shoot people whose ideas we don’t agree with. So if that is their Islam, then I am not from their religion. I hope that is clear enough as far as my stance goes.

What’s the common thread in these and many other such headlines? The names of the actors are all Muslim. And the pressure mounts on all of us – normal, harmless, garden-variety Muslims – to explain what is going on in the name of Islam. I know I am treading on very unsafe ground when I am writing this. I have no illusions about the possible threat to my own popularity and esteem, in which I am held for no fault of mine. In the strange world we live in, we Muslims and our Islam seems to be defined either by the strident discordant cries of people like the Imaam of Lal Masjid or the bleating of the likes of Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen, Irshad Manji and Hirsi Ali. Both these groups seek to foist their version of Islam on the rest of us. I believe the time has come for us, people who are practicing Muslims, proud of our great religion and culture, obedient to AllahY, conscious of our accountability to him, with no intention of changing Islam or its Shari’ah in any way whatsoever; to stand up and say, “Do what you want but leave Islam out of it. You don’t represent us. You are not our leaders. We don’t follow you.”
We Muslims ourselves are in a state of denial. The usual standard answer that we get when we mention the different acts of violence allegedly perpetrated by Muslims is that actually these have been done by or orchestrated by agencies of the enemies of Islam. Or we point a finger at America and Europe who have done worse in terms of slaughtering innocents and continue shamelessly while preaching peace to the world. Their leaders have no shame. I agree. But we forget two important matters when we make those statements.
1.    Those leaders are not Muslim. They are not our role models. They are not our benchmarks. We don’t follow them. They don’t have the Book of AllahY. They don’t claim to follow Muhammadr, the Messenger of AllahY. So what they do or don’t do has no relevance to what we do or don’t do.
2.    Two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because Madeleine Albright said on TV that the killing of Iraqi children was worth it – in terms of the American invasion of Iraq, it doesn’t give the Taliban the right to shoot Malala Yusufzai. At least the Americans do it to others. We do it to our own.
We have become used to blaming the West, our cousins, so-called ‘International Agencies’ or who-have-you for whatever happens that involves Muslims. That is a classic victim stance, the stance of losers and slaves everywhere. Export the blame in the false belief that it releases you from the responsibility of your actions or their consequences. It doesn’t. We are responsible before AllahY for what we do and our actions have consequences in this world and the Hereafter. Make no mistake O! Muslims. This is what your religion teaches you.  What helps the proponents of this victim stance is the fact that there have been incidents in the past where it has been proved that one or more of these agencies did in fact have a hand in either staging an act of violence and laying it at the door of Muslims who had nothing to do with it; or of aiding and abetting Muslims in committing hara-kiri of one kind or another. However the uncomfortable fact remains that there are many incidents that have happened and continue to happen that are entirely the effort of Muslims themselves. Call them misguided. Call them ignorant. Call them extremist. Call them what you will. Which Western agency pulled the trigger on Malala Yusufzai?
So what is the solution?
In my view the solution lies in the amazingly fortunate situation the Muslim Ummah finds itself of being in the eye of the world, provided that we can get our act together and act proactively in a coherent, sensible, creative and positive manner. Potentially Muslims today have access to the world media, any channel, and any country, free of cost. Anything that has an Islamic bent attracts the cameras and the world watches. Whose fault is it that almost all of it is negative? If our people drive flaming jeeps into airports; that is what will be shown. If they shoot a 14 year old girl because they don’t agree with her ideas, that is what will be shown. If they kill innocent people because someone somewhere made a film that is disparaging about Rasoolullahr, that is what will be shown. If they hole up inside a masjid or madrassa keeping women and children hostage, that is what will be shown. If they shoot up a masjid and kill worshippers that is what will hit the headlines. Propaganda is created and propagandists thrive in a situation where their victims readily provide them with real data and events. And that is what we continue to do. Provide data which is then not reported for what it is – the insane actions of a few but is interpreted as ‘problems’ of Islam. Then it is not the few criminals who are indicted and punished but the Prophet of Islam (Peace be on him) who is implicated, maligned and mocked because of what his followers who claim to love him, choose to do. Will someone ask them, ‘If you love your Prophet so much how come your actions are so different from his?’
Think Tanks & Team work
I believe that the first step to change our situation is to get the minds of the Ummah together. I propose that Think Tanks be created at a local level in every place where Muslims live. These Think Tanks must comprise of a cross-section of Muslims from all walks of life – Ulama (Theologians), professionals, academics, business people, scientists, bankers, parents, men and women. People who participate in the Think Tanks must learn how to collaborate, dialogue, differ and deal with conflict. They must learn to disagree without being disagreeable. They must learn to focus on issues of common concern while agreeing to live with the differences. They must learn to put the interest of Islam and the Muslim Ummah above their own narrow partisan concerns. And they must learn to obey an Ameer (Leader). These local groups must network and come together at a country level and in time at a global level. There are many secular and religious organizations today who follow this model, very successfully. All it needs is sincerity and dedication. 
These Think Tanks must identify important emerging issues, deliberate on them, take expert advice and then create solutions for them from an Islamic perspective. These solutions must be innovative, attractive and powerful and with great media savvy, must be made public. Believe me, if we do the right thing, world media will be only too glad to give us air time free of cost. After all the Nobel Peace Prize went to Mohammad Younus of Grameen Bank fame with a battery of appearances on all the major media channels, with his Islamic identity clearly visible in every appearance. If you become news worthy, you become news. I believe that it is time for the thinking ones to wake up and start thinking so that they don’t allow the mindless to hijack their image and thereby draw suffering on their heads for no fault of their own. 
Lethargy in today’s world is a crime. Especially lethargy in a situation where our very existence is threatened. Let us remember that as long as we are seen as people who are addicted to violence neither we nor our religion are likely to be seen in a positive light. Whether this image is fact or not is immaterial. It is the dominant image today. And it is an image that must be debunked. Nobody likes to be with or to support murderers of innocent people. We don’t either. I know that the people who shoot up mosques or do other such brave deeds don’t first come to the likes of you and me to ask our permission or opinion. I know that people like you and me have never actually seen someone like the murderers who shot up the mosques in Pakistan. Or the brave ‘men’ who shot Malala Yousufzai. We don’t know who they are and we wouldn’t dream of supporting them in their Haraam (prohibited) actions. Islam has never permitted killing people at random, irrespective of their religious belief. However none of this will make the problem go away or keep us safe from its effects when it keeps recurring again and again. So we need to find solutions. And we need to get together and do it. The problems affect us the most and so we need to solve them. After all it is the one who is sick who needs to eat the medicine. Not anyone else.
When the time comes for the truth to be spoken, silence is culpable.
I believe that time has come.