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December 2005 - January 2006

Political News

Creative Difference: The Stamp Duty paid for a 'Home'

by Anuja Prashar

The recent debacle of public relations (within the context of the politically sensitive arena of Conversion of Hindus) between the UK Royal Mail, silent British Ministers & the UK-based Hindu societies, demonstrates the increasing challenges facing Race, Faith and Class relations in the 21st Century. In this instance, the clash is primarily that between the invisible foundations of Christian dualism of Neo-Liberal Rational Secularism and that of a visibly demonstrable Pluralistic Hindu Secularism.

It should be understood that the term ‘Hindu’, in the past was synonymous with ‘Indian’ and as such was used as an ethno-geographic term. So in this sense ‘Hindu’ is a secular term and has no religious meaning. Modernist western academic discourse has created its ‘World religions’ and this in turn has developed the colonialist construct ‘Hinduism’ to capture the socio-religious life of people of Indian origin, who have an ancestry affiliated with Ancient Vedic Philosophy.

Recent evidence clearly shows how Euro-American Secularism is in contradiction with itself, because of the invisible, unspoken and unacknowledged Christian paradigms and foundations upon which it stands. This ideological foundation, by its very nature of dualism, functions socially, politically and economically through structural constructions that establish ‘differences’ based upon signifiers, such as phenotypes, language and cultural practices, economic status, ideology, epistemology and more recently, arsenals of nuclear power. Each signifier of difference has defined categories, to which are attached the values of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that in turn ensure maintenance of hierarchical systems of power and social class.

Daniele Hervieu-Leger’s theory of Religion as a ‘chain of memory’(based upon observations of Judeo-Christian religious development) explains the complexities of the relationship between religion and society. As the leading factors at play in this relationship, Hervieu-Leger highlights the intricate influences of intellectual location of belief, the semantics of the discourse, the individual and community needs for fulfilment and salvation and the historical socio-economic developments resulting from industrialisation and the resulting modernity.

Hervieu-Leger takes the traditional secularisation theory, of inevitable decline of religion in Industrial society and expands upon it to include the revival of the apparent religiosity of the present day. She therefore proposes that the secularisation of the traditional European Society pre-industrialisation, is simply the forerunner to the reconstruction of religious structures that takes account of the modern condition. I would like to suggest that the evidence I present in this article, confirms Hervieu-Leger’s theory and that Western Neo-Liberal Secularism is based upon the Christian foundations of the past and incorporates the Colonial and Post-Colonial experience, with its conditional racist and class-conscious semantic discourse.

On the offending Royal Mail Christmas stamp, baby Jesus is blonde and held in the arms of a dark haired Hindu couple, with a mark on the forehead. The implications of this design are so obvious as to be laughable, if only the social ramifications of these ideas were not so painful for ordinary people in today’s inter-dependant global human society. UK-based Hindu leaders asked for withdrawal of the stamp. Hindu Forum of Britain reported, “Royal Mail has refused to accept the demand saying the stamp featured a ‘Mughal’ painting which dates back to between 1620 and 1630 AD and originates from Mumbai in India. A spokesman for the Royal Mail confirmed they would not withdraw the stamp or amend it saying it was ‘not possible’. He added “It was common for Hindu artists during that period to paint images that depicted the western culture, including paintings about Christianity.”

However, no name of a Hindu Artist was attributed to the painting, image or design of this stamp.

Of greater concern is the ‘harkening’ back to oppressive Colonial periods in Indian history, as the justification for supposedly modern Multi-Cultural attitudes in order to promote ‘integration’ in the 21st Century. This will not only alarm all thinking transnational identity groups, but raises the core rational and secular question of ‘Which cultures are referenced by the term ‘Multi’ and Whose ‘integration’ with Whom, does the democratic secular national government of the day uphold?’ The new Citizenship test for the UK and its specific question -Who is the Head of the Church of England – gives weight to the idea that the UK is a Government founded upon Christian values.

What appear to be unrelated local national incidences, when put together in the transnational reality of the 21st Century, demonstrate how the invisible Christian foundations of post-modern secularism will need to be accounted for within the emerging global political discourses of the 21st Century. This debate is increasingly important within the social processes defining today’s transnational identities, due to the marked proactive trend of institutionalising dualistic paradigms into the framework of western-dominated global and national political discourses.

The remarks of the Pope Benedict XVI, on 11th May 2005, that the precise aim of divine intervention is to coerce people into conversion, and his explanation that, “Nations must learn to ‘read’ in history a message from God” has profound implications for the credibility of National & International Strategies based upon dualistic frameworks and institutions. The Pope adds, with the use of racialised terminology reminiscent of the colonial era, that “History is not in the hands of dark forces, of chance, or of merely human choices”; and this appears to have been affirmed by the United Nations two days later. UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion, Asma Jahangir, opposed the draft Bills proposed by Sri Lankan Government, at the behest of Buddhist monks, that would end the exploitation of Tsunami victims by Christian missionaries who offer money and jobs to entice poor Buddhists to change their religion. Sri Lanka has a Buddhist majority.

Another National endeavour with dualistic institutional implications is the resolution to be tabled in the US Congress in November, to address the problem of ‘caste discrimination and untouchability’ in India. As Francois Gautier comments, “One feels like asking Americans if they forgot the horrible treatment they meted out to their Negro slaves - And look at the condition of their own poor black people today, as seen recently during the New Orleans Katrina cyclone.” United States Congressman Christopher Smith, one of the sponsors of the resolution, repeats the old fashioned imperialistic political rhetoric , “For all the progress India has made over the years, it is highly regrettable that the lot of the ‘untouchables’ remains in such a terrible state as they continued to be victimised under the yoke of a shameful caste system.”

In response to Smith’s claims, Francois Gautier reminds everyone, “That true, there are still atrocities committed against Dalits in India, but there are also a number of atrocities committed against upper caste Indians, including the Kashmiri Pandits, thousands of whom having been butchered (ten of them during the recent earthquake in Kashmir) and 400,000 of them being refugees in their own country. Dalits are coming up, thanks to a reservation system put into place more than 40 years ago, to the extent that India’s last President was a Dalit.”

The phenomena of a racialised global faith discourse, based upon dualistic oppositional paradigms is widespread and occurs in unexpected places, as illustrated by the Moscow Temples Org report - “On 7th October 2005, the Mayor of Moscow, Yuriy Luzhkov cancelled the order issued by the Moscow Government one year ago, according to which ISKCON Moscow was given a plot of land for construction of a new temple instead of the old temple building. The old temple, which was used by ISKCON for 14 years (on rent from the Government), was going to be pulled down as per the new architectural plan …Mayor cancelled the previous order and announced ISKCON have no right to stay on this territory any more, which means that the devotees are now thrown out on the streets.”

Today’s emerging global faith discourse has many dimensions which demonstrate the overlap of class conflict, between dualistic paradigms of power and hierarchy and those of non-dualistic pluralism as seen is Trinidad during Diwali 2005 according to a CNN Report – “Ramoutar, 37, is one of dozens of Indian-origin farmers in central Trinidad who say they were discriminated against by being denied the right to observe Diwali at the state-owned farm where they raise fish and sheep - a charge, the government, dominated by Christians of African origins - denies. The Diwali dispute angered Trinidad’s East Indian community, whose members complain that the country’s winner-take-all system of politics results in discrimination against supporters of the party not in power.” The riots in Birmingham (UK) in October where Black members of the community suggested that “Asian businesses are re-colonising us” illustrates that Race as a signifier of difference, within a dualistic system actually represents class divisions, which reflect the failure of Government Policy to provide equal opportunity to all its citizens.

The racial and class dimension of the Faith discourse becomes more apparent when the processes of Western Media reporting are observed. US based, ‘Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor’, host Bill O’Reilly called the idea of closing public schools for the observance of Muslim holidays ‘absurd’. He made the remark during a discussion with Hillsborough County (Florida) Commissioner Brian Blair, who opposed the opening of schools for Yom Kippur & Good Friday.

The Daily Times of Pakistan reports – “In December 2004, Hillsborough County Muslims, with the backing of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), asked the school board to close schools on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr. Instead of giving students the day off on Eid-ul-Fitr, the school board voted to keep schools open on Yom Kippur and Good Friday during the 2006-2007 school year.” It would appear that rather than share the same respect and privilege with all religions, regardless of colour and creed, the local political arena in Florida, would rather take away privilege from its own Judeo-Christian society in order to retain an elite position of power for those traditions.

President Bush’s opening remarks in his recent speech in Virginia, addressing the US Armed Forces, and his first public comments after the Iranian President’s negative remarks about Israel, “Thank you for inviting me to Virginia … a land steeped in History … the State where the first English-speaking government was established in this great land.” This should have made everyone aware that ‘English-speaking’ has become the new ‘code’ for linking up the 21st Century global civil society, namely UK and Australia whom Bush singled out for being strong allies in the war against terror, with the practice of democracy, global security and Christian values, the concepts to which the rest of President Bush’s speech was dedicated. How this new development within the global security discourse will be received by other non-English-speaking EU members, can only be imagined and raises our vital awareness of the dangerous development of hierarchies of ethnicity within governance frameworks.

Ironically, The Indian IT industry, which boasts that it has the ‘largest skilled English-speaking work force in the world’ and is made up of a largely pluralistic Hindu majority, may well raise its eyebrows and be perplexed as to where and how this new value attributed to ‘English-speaking’ situates them, within the Global political arena. The political practice of selective problematisation of global issues, is becoming increasingly complex. New signifying markers of ‘difference’ with specific associated political value, can only generate greater debates, that highlight the negative impact of dualistic hierarchical social and political paradigms.

The negative impact of divisive social and political paradigms is one issue, but another aspect of this practice is even more surprising. When these same dualistic paradigms are imposed upon non-dualistic philosophical concepts in the pursuit of political and social agendas, they appear to make a nonsense of Philosophy and Theology. This is best illustrated by the astounding news carried in the Times of India newspaper October 2005 - “Pune-based Catholic leaders such as Joseph Neuner, Kurien Kunnumpuram, Francis X D’Sa, John Vattanky and Subhash Anand have been stressing for lesser control from the Vatican, to make the church “truly Indian and
genuinely Christian”. The Catholic church will take up the study of Sanskrit, adapt to monastic life in an ashram and adopt the Hindu ritual of aarti during mass if the movement towards ‘Indianisation of the church’ gets the nod from 400 priests and five bishops congregating in Pune.

Francis X D’Sa, says, “Today, the time has come for the Indian church to shed its image of a multinational company and retrieve those characteristics which bring out its ‘Catholicity’ in the best sense of the word.” Pandikattu Kuruvilla, teacher of philosophy at JDV and the Papal Seminary’s rector, Ornellas Coutinho, explained that a number of Hindu religious customs and practices have already been embraced by the Catholic church to become truly Indian.

This evidence suggests that Indians of Hindu origin may adopt the trappings, labels and hierarchical systems of Christianity to take advantage of social and international access to power, but they are loath to accept the associated Colonial and Philosophical machinations of power that accompany this adoption.

It is my conviction that the reinstatement of oppressive social processes of a historical and prevailing race discourse, upon the emerging transnational Faith discourse of post-modernity, can only inevitably produce the polar positions of ‘black’ and ‘white’ and compound the ever increasing fractures within all National and Transnational societies. The Birmingham riots (UK) October 2005 and the violent confrontation between police and Beurs (North African Muslim youth) in Paris November 2005, are warnings for what is to come if we do not evaluate, analyse and reflect upon the ideological foundations of the human global society we hope to create for the future.

I advocate a pro-active awakening and raised awareness to this particular divisive dualistic oppositional trend, and urge all Political and Faith Leaders to resist it openly and with integrity. First, in order to reduce the diminishing effect upon the ability of the global Faith discourse to be expressed along ideological paradigms of spirituality. Secondly, to stop the re-imposition of negative and dangerous ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ social constructions onto transnational and national Faith & Race Relations for the 21st Century.

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