Monday, October 30, 2006

Am i an islamophobe?

Some of my favourite people in the world are Muslim. In my early teens, as an aspiring cricketer, my greatest source of inspiration was the fiery power of Imran Khan. In those days, I did not begrudge Pakistan its victories over India, as long as my hero had done well. There were times I wished I were Muslim, in the hope that a shared faith might result in shared ability. Since then, I’ve sought and found both warmth and love amongst Muslims, some of whom I count amongst my dearest friends. And yet...

It was a rare day this ‘autumn in New York’. Bright sunshine and Bach accompanied me to Journal Square where I boarded a train for what is still called ‘The World Trade Center’. I was distressed. The Jolie-Pitts were shooting for ‘A Mighty Heart’ in Pune, and I was too far away to honour whatever press invitations might’ve come my way (and you better believe there were some). After all, what is a Features Editor worth if he can’t feature ‘The Features’. More disturbingly, I had stayed up all of previous night watching a documentary about the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl, and some of the footage was so distressing that I couldn’t sleep. I’ve always taken pride in being a liberal pacifist, and yet the collage of bearded faces creased with hate, the rising crescendo of “Allahu Akbar,” praise of the Lord demonised into a war chant, churned deep dark thoughts. In that bigoted moment, it was so easy to believe that every Muslim was a fire-breathing kafir slayer and so difficult to imagine any of them as loving fathers, doting husbands, dutiful sons or remotely human beings. I tossed and turned in my sleep struggling with the images and my convictions to the contrary.

The train started moving, and away from the darkness, in the buzz and bustle of the world’s busiest city, the thoughts seemed to fade away. But soon there was to be a test – a test I was to fail. At the next station, a young Arab entered the car. He had a heavy satchel across his shoulder and a book with Arabic inscriptions in his hand. Pairs of hitherto drowsy eyes watched, some with curiosity, others with disdain, even loathing, and I with interest that changed imperceptibly into apprehension, fear and worse. Thoughts of the previous night came screaming back. Memories of 9/11, 7/7 and the the man’s religious fervour, all seemed to suggest to my fevered brain that the man might’ve anointed us all for mass martyrdom. I got up, admonishing little voices in my head that tried to remind me that I was committing the very sins I’d condemned, and got off the train at the very next stop. “Better be guilty and safe than sorry and dead,” I told the voices but they grew louder still, driving me to shame and admiration. Shame, because I could not bear the thought of having betrayed my own beliefs and in many ways, the faith of my friends. And admiration for the millions of peaceful Muslims in the world, who repeatedly forgive the rest of the world for chaining them to the crimes of a deviant few, without compromising on their values as Muslims, and more significantly, as human beings. I owe that unknown Arab, and every such Muslim an apology, as I do to Pakistani New Yorkers like Tariq, who’ve welcomed me into their hearts, blind to the momentary prejudice that had wrought havoc with my beliefs. Students and friends, apologies, for having forsaken, albeit for a moment, all that I’d preached. Steadfast faith in the divine essence of every faith can truly make angels, if not gods, of human beings, for it cultivates forgiveness. Like in the grieving Amish, who forgave the very man who killed their daughters, by including the killer and his family in their prayers. To hate is not human, but to forgive surely divine; and may whatever powers that be give us the courage to forgive and douse the fire of hate in an ocean of unconditional forgiveness. Christ said it, Gandhi repeated it; and for the sake of ourselves, let’s live it.

The bullet and the cheek

Myriad are the manifestations of faith. While it makes for some stentorian expression in cruel bombings amidst innocent civilians in some cases, it barely stymies a lump in the throat with its generous tolerance of the most devilish delinquency. When Charles Carl Roberts storms into a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish neighbourhood of Lancaster County to pump bullets into little girls barely out of 10 years of their lives, one would imagine no ‘faith’ to come to the sympathy of the desperado, not even on his death. But the ‘backlash’ from this minority sect of Christianity – the Amish – has been one that restores humanity the quintessential virtue known to every faith on the planet: Forgiveness.

Be it reports of one of the schoolgirls ‘offering’ herself before others for the murderous mission or the local Reverend’s statement that they “will do anything that (we) can to make her life better” on behalf of the community sharing the grief of Roberts’ widow, the bewildering gestures are just a way of life of the Amish. With the Anabaptists (as the Amish are called), turning the other cheek is not an inspiration from some latest movie, but another way of reminding and reinforcing their distinction from the ‘other’ world. What remains to be seen is which part reaches out for the other, first…


1 comment:

  1. Read last two issues of "The Sunday Indian" and articles by you were really different. The one giving an insight into the life of pet dog was amazing. I would have never given a thought as if how they are breeded and all. Other article too was good and that made me open your blogspot and start reading the one from beginning i.e. October '06. Each one seems to be amazing.

    Gaurav Verma