Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cinderella Ate My Daughter

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture


 (AmazonKindle, Flipkart, Powell's, my review on Amazon)
4 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
“Why be a role model when you can be simply a model?" One icon begets another, more veneer, more commercialized, crasser.

The seeds of this book were laid in 2006, when the author wrote an article called "'What's Wrong with Cinderella?' which ran on Christmas Eve in The New York Times Magazine." The article itself was a response to the "Princess" obsession everyone seemed to be afflicted with. "I fretted over what playing Little Mermaid, a character who actually gives up her voice to get a man, was teaching her." "Her" as in Daisy, the author's daughter. The article attracted a ton of attention, and morphed into this book. We are taken to toy shops, those cheap Made-in-China Barbie dolls as well as those selling dolls that cost several times more, to kids' pageants, to the world of fairy tales, and what the originals say and what the ersatz Disney monstrosities have twisted them into, teenage pop singing sensations that cannot wait to grow up even as they pretend they aren't, and yes - the world of teenage sexed-up role models in TV serials like Hannah Montana and the like.

There is much to like and recommend in this book. However, there is some fluff and filler too, that seems to serve little purpose other than to puff up the book to a more acceptable 200 pages. Separately, there are more than fifty pages of notes, acknowledgments, bibliography, and index.
"What was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants - or should want - to be the Fairest of Them All." 
Look around in India, and advertisers are hand-in-glove with companies to push that message out as aggressively as they can, to children as well as adults. Literally. Fairness creams would have us believe that beauty is only skin deep, and what is skin deep is what matters. You have no self-confidence unless and until you conform to an artificially contrived standard of beauty. To be different from the crowd, you have to become one of the crowd.
"According to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture's emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls' vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior."

"In one study of eighth-grade girls, for instance, self-objectification - judging your body by how you think it looks to others - accounted for half the differential in girls' reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem."
The author tells that the "first Princess items, released with no marketing plan, no focus groups, no advertising, sold as if blessed by a fairy godmother. Within a year, sales had soared to $300 million. By 2009, they were at $4 billion." Success begets success. "There are more than twenty-six thousand Disney Princess items on the market."

But where is the proof? Eh? That this princess madness "specifically damages girls' self-esteem or dampens other aspirations"?
"There is, however, ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity - especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior - are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers." 
Yes. Contrary to what marketers and advertisers would have you believe, you are actually worse off when you fall for that bullshit that marketers shove down our throats.

We as parents are probably aware of the dangers that such toys and products pose to a child's emotional and psychological development. At least, some are. What about the others? Why do we hanker after these toys for our children? Because a child's "wide-eyed excitement over the products we buy them pierces through our own boredom as consumers and as adults, reconnecting us to our childhoods: it makes us feel again." Such "aliveness" is however like a drug. You require every higher doses to get the same kick. The invidiousness of these products is such that they seek to intermediate themselves between the parent and the child. The child gets validation of a parent's love only when it is expressed through the act of purchasing a branded toy, a toy that seeks to provide confirmation of a child's sense of advertising-created identity, while advertising its purchase as an act of independence. "Both Princess and American Girl promote shopping as the path to intimacy between mothers and daughters; as an expression, even for five-year-olds, of female identity."
"Children weren't color-coded at all until the early twentieth century: in the era before Maytag, all babies wore white as a practical matter, since the only way of getting clothes clean was to boil them. What's more, both boys and girls wore what were thought of as gender-neutral dresses. When nursery colors were introduced, pink was actually considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red, which was associated with strength. … It was not until the mid-1980s, when amplifying age and sex differences became a dominant children's marketing strategy, that pink fully came into its own"
Even the image of a girl as having a doll as their favorite toy is relatively new. "less than 25 percent in an 1898 survey cited them as their favorite toy." "Baby dolls were seen as a way to revive the flagging maternal instinct of white girls, to remind them of their patriotic duty to conceive" Why, you may ask? "President Theodore Roosevelt, who was obsessed with the waning birth rates among white Anglo-Saxon women, began waging a campaign against "race suicide.""

Every icon, starting with Barbie, has started out as a rebel. However, rebels need to rebel, ever more, to keep up with the generations. What parents considered rebellious would be considered sacrilegiously conformist by children. Furthermore, what's hip for a teen is aspirational for the pre-teen. What is cool with the pre-teen is anathema to the teen. And what a lovely circle, or is it a spiral, we end up weaving. Or should we call this the slippery slope of "coolness"?

So, let's take a look at Barbie.
"It's hard to imagine now, but when she was introduced in 1959, the bombshell with the high-heeled feet was considered a rebel: single and childless, she lived a glamorous life replete with boyfriends (hinting at the possibility of recreational sex). … She was a feminist icon! The hitch, of course, was that her liberation was predicated on near-constant attention to her appearance. "
Parents couldn't wait to share Barbie with their daughters - "they didn't wait until the girls were eight to twelve (Barbie's original demographic); they presented her to their three-year-olds. That instantaneously made her anathema to her intended market."

So you had to have Bratz for Barbie's original demographic. "Bratz brilliantly distilled Barbie's acquisitiveness while casting off the rest: why be a role model when you can be simply a model? Bratz, in short, were cool."

A question that does beg to be asked is, when do gender differences start to manifest between boys and girls, and secondly, why do girls, for instance, gravitate towards toys like dolls? Ignore, for a moment, Roosevelt's asinine reasons. Let's actually see what experts have to say on the field. Like Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist, who says that "For the most part, however, at least in the beginning, the behavior and interests of the two sexes are nearly indistinguishable. Both go gaga over the same toys: until they're about a year old, they are equally attracted to dolls; and until they're around three, they show the same interest in actual babies. In other words, regardless of how we dress them or decorate their rooms, when they are tiny, children do not know from pink and blue."

Which brings us back to the author's insight that Disney Princesses are a stroke of pure "genius". They appear and appeal to girls at "the precise moment that girls need to prove they are girls" and so they "latch onto the most exaggerated images their culture offers in order to stridently shore up their femininity."

This also means that girls then tend to play with girls, and boys with boys. This also both limits their actual brain development, but also affects, and possibly limits, how they think about the opposite sex, as well as "potentially defining both their abilities and possibilities."

If girls play with toys that serve to reinforce stereotypical myths of beauty, then what's the next logical step down this ladder? Or should I say 'slope'? Well, you can look at teen TV shows. Or you can look at baby beauty pageants. In the US, at least, there have been a host of shows that have lamented the "parade of preschoolers tricked out like Las Vegas showgirls", Which is "followed by commentary from psychologists who (with good reason) link self-objectification and sexualization to the host of ills previously mentioned - eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, impaired academic performance", followed by mothers who "defend their actions", and so on. What the viewer often misses, but still lingers to watch, is the opportunity, "under the pretext of disapproval, to be titillated by the spectacle, to indulge in guilty-pleasure voyeurism." Ouch!

This can be acutely damaging to children. In the words of "Stephen Hinshaw, the chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley" and author of the "thoughtful book" "The Triple Bind", "imposing any developmental task on children before they are ready can cause irreparable, long-term harm." Beauty pageants have to be the worst offenders. So how do "pageant moms rationalize their behavior"?
"Two strategies particularly caught my eye. The first was "denial of injury" - the idea that the children are not harmed by the experience and may actually benefit. The second was "denial of responsibility": they may personally disapprove of pageants, but their four-year-olds so wanted to compete that they had no choice but to comply. Rejigger that wording a bit, substitute "Disney Princess 21-piece play makeup set" or "mani-pedi birthday party" or "Rock & Republic Jeans," and it sounds like a conversation you would hear on any suburban playground." 
Ouch that a second time.

Toys? Check.
Pageants? Check.
Fairy tales? Let's take a look at them. The Grimm Brothers' fairy tales are very, very different from the processed offal dished out by Disney and the like. "Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim" has warned that "we avoid the Grimms' grimness at our peril." He has argued in his "classic book The Uses of Enchantment" (Kindle e-book)  that "the brothers' gore is not only central to the tales' appeal, it's crucial to kids' emotional development." Remember Cinderella? Her stepsisters? And the magic slipper? How does the original tale unfold?
"As usual, the stepsisters try on the tiny golden slipper before Cinderella does; in order to jam their big fat clodhoppers into it, one slices off her heel and the other her toe. Some fancy academic might see that as a metaphor, a warning to girls against contorting themselves to fit unattainable standards of beauty, but, truly, it is just gross. And the Grimms seem to relish it, describing how the sisters grit their teeth, how the blood "spurts" from the shoe, staining their white stockings."
I don't think that would qualify as wholesome children's fare. Therefore it was sanitized, and lobotomized, by Disney for consumption by children.
Check.

TV pop stars? Check that too.
After the toddler fascination with Disney, the girls are primed for more salacious stuff.
"By the time girls are five, after all, the human Disney Princess du jour is meant to supplant the animated ones in their hearts. Miley. Lindsay. Hilary. Even, once upon a time, Britney (who launched her career in 1993 as a Mouseketeer on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club). All were products of the Disney machine. Each girl's rise became fodder for another media fairy tale, another magical rags-to-riches transformation to which ordinary girls could aspire."
Take Britney Spears for instance. Unlike Madonna, who was the "Material Girl", "Britney, on the other hand, publicly insisted on her chastity (at least for a while). She was not only a loud-and-proud virgin, urging other girls to follow her example, but acted willfully clueless about the disconnect between her words and deeds."
"It was her stubborn disingenuousness - her winking detachment from her actions and impact - that eroticized Britney's (not so) innocence and, unintentionally or not, that of the millions of elementary school-aged girls who slavishly followed her."
Even "Hannah is by no means perfect: the show filters its sunny lessons (usually some version of "be yourself") through the lens of celebrity, subtly suggesting that famousness itself is the greatest possible achievement - even as it denies that is the case."

The challenge arises, for parents and children alike, because to be different means to conform to the current norms of sexualized behavior. To truly assert individuality is a short, fast, and one-way ticket to social ostracism.
"A century ago, female self-improvement did not presume a stint under the scalpel, hours at the gym, or even a trip to the cosmetics counter. In her indispensable book The Body Project (Kindle e-book), the historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg wrote that for girls growing up before World War I, becoming a better person meant being less self-involved: helping others, focusing on schoolwork, becoming better read, cultivating empathy." 
Imagine if this were to be the avowed goals of a teenage girl today. You cannot begin to imagine the blunt barbs she would be subject to. "No one wants her child to be the sacrificial lamb to a cause. No one wants her daughter to feel excluded by her peers, to be ostracized for having the wrong clothes, hair, or pop preferences. No one wants her daughter to be caricatured on a bumper sticker."
Choices for girls have been reduced to either being ""for the boys" - dress for them, perform sexually for them, play the supportive friend or girlfriend", or ""one of the boys," an outspoken, feisty girl who hangs with the guys and doesn't take shit." Some choice, huh?
"The trouble is, Brown and Lamb say, being "one of the boys" is as restrictive as the other option"

Social media is doing its bit to worsen the situation. According to "Adriana Manago, a researcher at the Children's Digital Media Center in Los Angeles who studies college students' behavior on MySpace and Facebook, young people's real-life identities are becoming ever more externally driven, sculpted in response to feedback from network "friends."" ... "The impact, back in the offline world, appears to be an uptick in narcissistic tendencies among young adults."

What is the solution? Not very clear. The book does not seek to provide solutions, it does do a good job of making us aware to the lay of the land, so to say. It is perhaps unreasonable, unfair, and overly ambitious to expect one book to provide not only all the questions, but also the answers. In summary, a good eye-opener of a book, but needs to be supplemented by more reading. The bibliography at the end should provide a useful starting point.




PeggyOrenstein.com
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

What's Going on in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life (Kindle e-book), by Lise Eliot
Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It (Kindle e-book), by Lise Eliot

Kindle Excerpt:




© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Reversal by Michael Connelly - Review


The Reversal (Harry Bosch)
A reversal of roles, a possible reversal of a verdict.
(AmazonKindle, Flipkart, my review on Amazon)
5 stars
Mickey Haller, defender of the accused, is asked to lead the prosecution for the retrial of a convicted child murderer who has won for himself a retrial, based on, you guessed it, DNA evidence. So the first reversal is that of roles, where Mickey Haller is now trying to put the bad guy into jail, rather than try and get him freed. The second is not so much a reversal as fighting a reversal. The person charged with murder could be set free, unless Haller, Bosch, and - Haller's ex-wife, can find enough evidence to put the accused back in jail, for good. That is, of course, assuming he is guilty. Throw into the mix a witness - the victim's sister, reluctant to testify at the trial, and who has a boatload of issues from the past, that are most likely going to be raked up should she choose to testify. Add to that an unctuous defense lawyer, Jessop, who is not above, or should I say below, manipulating the media to win for himself some good publicity and for his client a possible acquittal. Yes, you are not supposed to like the defense attorney.

This is also a Harry Bosh novel, because Harry Bosch does a lot of the investigating, including chasing down the reluctant witness. Harry Bosch, by the way, is a police detective, and a recurring character in Michael Connelly's novels, and five or six 'Harry Bosch' novels have been published to date. The writing in 'The Reversal' is taut, and the courtroom scenes are engrossing and do not drown out the plot. There is enough drama that unfolds outside the courtroom also to keep you turning the pages. The suspense over the trial inside the courtroom is matched by the events that unfold outside, with a real sense of danger engulfing both Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch. Lastly, there is Haller's ex-wife, with whom Haller is on good terms, and who serves as an assistant to the prosecution. A happy, or not so happy, family that plays together I suppose.

All in all, a fast-paced, racy, suspenseful legal thriller.




© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly - Review


The Black Echo (Harry Bosch), by Michael Connelly 
A Turgid Read
(Kindle (3-in-1)Kindle, my review on Amazon)
3 stars
A fast-paced climax notwithstanding, this is a slow and turgid read. A lot of back-and-forth and dialog, that I am not sure adds to the pace of the novel slows the narrative.

This is the author's first published novel. And also the first featuring the character of Harry Bosch, a loner detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, and also a Vietnam War vet. Harry is called out to the scene of a murder, of what looks like a homeless junkie. It turns out that the deceased was a tunnel rat with Harry Bosch during the Vietnam war. As Harry investigates, we learn, slowly, after going through page after page of prose that moves slowly, very slowly, that deceased may have been a murder victim, a possible accessory to a crime, and may have been killed to prevent the details of a second crime being planned from being leaked.

As with Michael Crichton's early novels, or was it his first novel, "A Case of Need", the pace if turgid, and there is too much detail, and too much detail that seems forced. I still found myself turning the pages, but that was more because I had read his later works, like "A Lincoln Lawyer", "A Reversal", and others, so I knew that Connelly is a fine writer, with a fine sense of pacing - just not very evident in this first book. The Black Echo is more like an unpolished work. You may be better off reading some of his later books.

The Harry Bosch Novels: The Black Echo, The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde


Kindle Excerpt:




© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bangalore Comic Con Express, 2012

A chance call to my friend Pratap to get a clarification on a bookstore turned into a most enjoyable visit to the Indoor Stadium at Koramangala where the Bangalore Comic Con Express, the "the traveling version of the Indian Comic Con, the annual Comics Convention at Delhi." (http://www.comicconindia.com/Express/)




Entry is free, parking is a little haphazard, but if you get in early enough, or in the afternoon, you can find parking. Parking is also free, by the way. The indoor stadium is small enough to allow you to cover the entire floor within an hour if you are with kids, and in a couple of hours in any case. I counted more than 40 stalls there, and apart from comics, there were also several stalls of comic accessories, and also a couple of stalls of retail stores like Landmark.




One of the largest stalls was of Amar Chitra Katha, and they have come out with some new comics, like "The Blue Umbrella", based on the short story by Ruskin Bond, "Jim Corbett", "Thanjavur", "Salim Ali", and a couple of others. What was the icing on the cake was a 10 percent discount on purchases at the stall.



Amar Chitra Katha stall



Commando Comics Collections

Fan dressed as Ravana

Fans dressed as characters from the Tintin movie

The mini-event on while we were there was the launch of the second Shiva book by Vimanika, "Shiva - The Legend of the Immortal"






Yes, an unexpected and fun weekend event that both adults and children enjoyed!

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Londonistan, By Melanie Phillips - Review

Londonistan, By Melanie Phillips

"Right-Wing Leanings Aside, Some Serious Questions."
(Amazon IndiaKindle IndiaAmazonFlipkart, Flipkart e-bookKindlePowell's)
 
Review in short: The author casts a critical eye on the direction British society and the nation have taken that seem to have resulted in a radicalization of the Islamic community in the country. Substantial documentation of the foibles of the British polity, intellectuals, judiciary adds heft to the message. An important and trenchant, if somewhat disturbing and critique. Many of the questions and context are eerily applicable in the Indian context too.

Longer Review.
As Britain becomes more multi-cultural and more heterogeneous a society, it has also had to face a most unfortunate consequence of this intermingling. People - immigrants - who have turned against their motherland. The London terrorist attacks of 2005 brought this problem to the forefront for much of Britain - "The realization that British boys would want to murder their fellow citizens was bad enough." What some have perceived as a lax and permissive attitude among the intelligentsia to the sprouting of Islamic fundamentalism has led to the coinage of a pejoration: "Londinistan" - "a mocking play on the names of such state sponsors of terrorism as Afghanistan", and the despair that London itself has become "the major European center for the promotion, recruitment and financing of Islamic terror and extremism." This book, then, is a scathing look at the players that have led to, in the author’s view, a surrender to the forces of Islamic fundamentalism in Britain.

In the author’s view, and backed by considerable data, such a pejoration - the term ‘Londonistan’ - may not be without merit, especially if one considers the vast numbers of Britons engaged in nefarious activities. "According to British officials, up to sixteen thousand British Muslims either are actively engaged in or support terrorist activity, while up to three thousand are estimated to have passed through al-Qaeda training camps, with several hundred thought to be primed to attack the United Kingdom."

The author has tackled different aspects of this issue in a separate chapter each. Therefore, in chapter two, for instance, she takes on the lax immigration system for the uncontrolled influx of people claiming persecution in their home countries, so much so that "many Islamist terrorists and extremists found Britain to be such a delightful and agreeable destination." She harshly condemns "Ministers and officials in charge of the asylum system" as being "among the least likely to possess either the intellectual or the political clout to tackle the problem". She also pillories the European Court of Human Rights for extending "the scope of the provision in the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits torture or degrading treatment" as it became "impossible to deport illegal immigrants - including suspected terrorists - to any place where the judges thought such abuses might be practiced." Worse was the British judiciary, while "independent of political control", came to "see themselves, rather than the democratically elected politicians, as the true guardians of the country’s values."

To take a more detailed look at some of the arguments put forth in the book, let us start with the evidence that points to a radicalization of Muslims in the UK itself. To that end there is an impressive array of facts the author marshals to argue the point that, to begin with, UK has played host to terrorists and organizations with terror-links, unequivocally.
"UK-based terrorists have carried out operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Spain and the United States."
"And the number of terrorists who have come roaring out of these polluted British waters is startling. UK-based terrorists have carried out operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Spain and the United States. The roll call includes Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, killer of the journalist Daniel Pearl and disaffected, brilliant son of Pakistani immigrants; Dhiren Barot, Nadeem Tarmohammed and Qaisar Shaffi, British citizens and al-Qaeda members who plotted to attack major financial centers in the United States; Mohammad Bilal from Birmingham, who drove a truck loaded with explosives into a police barracks in Kashmir; the "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, who was converted to Islam at Brixton Mosque in south London; Sajid Badat from Gloucester, a putative second shoe-bomber but who was also caught and is now in jail; and Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Mohammed Hanif, the British boys who helped bomb a Tel Aviv bar in 2003 and killed three Israeli civilians. And let’s not forget Azahari Husin or the "Demolition Man," the Malaysian engineer who belonged to the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah ( JI). He had studied at Reading University in the 1980s, honed his bomb-making skills in Afghanistan in the 1990s, helped mastermind the terrorist attacks in Bali (twice) and finally blew himself up in a gun battle with Indonesian police in November 2005."

"One of the world’s most radical Islamist organizations, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in many countries where it is considered a major threat, has its headquarters in Britain."
"Scarcely less significant is the European headquarters of the radical proselytizing movement Tablighi Jamaat at Dewsbury in Yorkshire."

"Al-Sunnah, the Islamist magazine that calls repeatedly for human-bomb terror operations against the United States, is published from London,"

"Indeed, one could say that it was in Britain that al-Qaeda was actually formed as a movement."
"Many of Osama bin Laden’s fatwas were first published in London."

"The foiled millennium plots of 1999 and 2000, when al-Qaeda planned a series of attacks in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, all led back to London."
You know things were bad when Egypt "denounced Britain as a hotbed for radicals" after "Abu Hamza welcomed the massacre of fifty-eight European tourists at Luxor in October 1997".  Abu Hamza was "an Egyptian-born former engineering student and nightclub bouncer, who had lost an eye and an arm in Afghanistan and sported a hook instead of a hand", and was allowed to live and preach in Britain for several years, till he was finally jailed in "February 2006 for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred"

It is useful to describe the term Islamism itself as it is used extensively in the book. "Islamism is the term given to the extreme form of politicized Islam that has become dominant in much of the Muslim world and is the ideological source of global Islamic terrorism." The author states "It derives from a number of radical organizations", prominent among them being the Tablighi Jamaat in India/Pakistan, the Muslim Brotherhood ("which was founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna with Sayed Qutb its leading ideologue. Its creed is known as Salafism and is deeply antisemitic; this is virtually indistinguishable from Saudi Arabian Wahhabism"), and "the Jamaat al-Islami, founded by Sayed Abu’l Ala Maududi in India/Pakistan"

So how did such a radicalization came to happen? And why wasn't anything done about it? Were the Muslims residing in Britain, all 1.6 million out of a population of 60 million, siding with the terrorists? Were they sympathizing with these Islamists? No, not quite, argues the author, and there is nuance to the "no".

"In Britain, hundreds of thousands of Muslims lead law-abiding lives" However, and this is where the nuance appears, in the author’s opinion, the majority of the pacifists need to be more vocal about their abhorrence for Islamist violence, and more disturbingly, moderation among them is relative, "considering their widespread hostility towards Israel and the Jews, for example, or the way in which the very concept of Islamic terrorism or other wrongdoing is automatically denied."

More disturbingly, for Britain, there has also been this barely hidden desire within the British Islamic community to see more Islamization in society in general. Consider this:
"A poll conducted by the Guardian newspaper found that 61 percent of British Muslims wanted to be governed by Islamic law, operating on Sharia principles - "so long as the penalties did not contravene British law." A clear majority wanted Islamic law introduced into Britain in civil cases relating to their own community. In addition, 88 percent wanted to see British schools and workplaces accommodating Muslim prayer times as part of their normal working day."
This is perhaps by no means unsurprising - if a community wants more elements of its traditional jurisprudence to be integrated into their adopted country. Perhaps. But what about taking offence at the slightest pretext? What about self-censorship because of fear of causing offence to the easily-offended by vocal minority among Muslims?
"Novelty pig calendars and toys were banned from a council office in case they offended Muslim staff. Ice creams were withdrawn from the Burger King chain after complaints from Muslims that a whorl design on the lid looked like the word "Allah." Various councils banned the concept of Christmas, on the grounds that it was "too Christian" and therefore "offensive" to peoples of other faiths"
Or
"There are now more than 140 housing associations in England catering to ethnic minorities; one of them, the Aashyana in Bristol, provides special apartments for Muslims with the toilets facing away from Mecca."
So, why not debate this issue? After all, these are fairly existential questions for British society, one would assume. But here one has to tread carefully. It is easy for such debates to get hijacked by extremists on both sides, and for stereotype-driven accusations to fly fast and furious.
 "One of the reasons why people shy away from acknowledging the religious aspect of this problem is, first, the very proper respect that should be afforded to people’s beliefs and, second, the equally proper fear of demonizing an entire community. There is indeed a risk of such a discussion exposing innocent Muslims to attack."
If the majority of Muslims in Britain do not agree with or subscribe to the extremist views of those within their community, then they need to be more vocal about it. Which they are not. "If "moderation" includes reasonableness, truthfulness and fairness, the reaction by British Muslims to the London bombings was not moderate at all. Yes, they condemned the atrocities. But in the next breath they denied that these had had anything to do with Islam. Thus they not only washed their hands of (sic) any communal responsibility but - in denying what was a patently obvious truth that these attacks were carried out by adherents of Islam in the name of Islam - also indicated that they would do nothing to address the roots of the problem so as to prevent such a thing from happening again."

It is not as if there is no one speaking out against the Islamists from within the Muslim community. The most eloquent case for the Muslim community to speak against terrorism perhaps comes from Mansoor Ijaz, who wrote in the Financial Times, "It is hypocritical for Muslims living in western societies to demand civil rights enshrined by the state and then excuse their inaction against terrorists hiding among them on grounds of belonging to a borderless Islamic community. It is time to stand up and be counted as model citizens before the terror consumes us all."

Dissenting voices are often either silenced or threatened into submission. "Reda Hussaine is an Algerian journalist who started inquiring into Algerian radicals in London after his Paris office, where he was trying to start up an independent Algerian newspaper, was ransacked in 1993. The French police told him that the attack had been organized from London, that the group responsible was sending money to terrorists in Algeria, and that Abu Qatada was behind it."

What about representatives of the Muslims in Britain? You know you may have a problem of sorts when Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, "regarded by the British establishment as the most reliable mainstream voice of the Muslim community", compares "Hamas suicide bombers to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi (sic)."

Or take the words of Tariq Ramadan, who, according to "researcher Caroline Fourest", "speaks with two voices". When "asked whether he approved of the killing of an eight-year-old Israeli child who would grow up to be a soldier, he replied: ‘That act in itself is morally condemnable but contextually explicable,'"

A piece in the middle of the book is very illuminating in shedding some light on the topic of Islamopobia. She quotes Kenan Malik, ""antiracist" Asian writer", who suggests that "Islamophobia is a myth and is being exaggerated to suit politicians' needs and silence the critics of Islam: The more the threat of Islamophobia is exaggerated, the more ordinary Muslims believe that they are under constant attack. It helps create a siege mentality, it stokes up anger and resentment, and it makes Muslims more inward looking and more open to religious extremism. It also creates a climate of censorship in which any criticism of Islam can be dismissed as Islamophobic. The people who suffer most from such censorship are those struggling to defend basic rights within Muslim communities"

Islamic theologians are not to be left behind in strengthening the needle of suspicion that some harbor against Islam.
"In 1980, the Islamic Council of Europe published a book called Muslim Communities in Non-Muslim States, which explained the Islamic Agenda in Europe. When Muslims lived as a minority, it said, they faced theological problems, because classical Islamic teaching always presupposed a context of Islamic dominance. The book told Muslims to organize themselves with the aim of establishing a viable Muslim community, to set up mosques, community centers and Islamic schools. The ultimate goal of this strategy was that the Muslims should become a majority and the entire nation be governed according to Islam." 
This is a deliberately and dangerously confrontationalist approach to take, and its effects can be seen even in the beliefs slowly gaining ground among Muslims in Britain.

In all this, it would be awfully remiss to not take a look at politicians and politics. It is a universally acknowledged truth that an amoral politician in need of electoral safety will seek refuge in divisions in society. This has been true with Indian politicians for over half a century, and it should be of no surprise to people that Britain is no different.
"Labour was traditionally the party that appealed most to new immigrants, and Britain’s Muslims were no exception. Many Labour MPs, including the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, found themselves representing constituencies with significant Muslim populations. This had a number of consequences, one of which was that some Labour politicians allowed Pakistani politics to influence British politics." And thus you come across the concept of "vote-banks" in Britain. " 
On the day of the 2005 British general election, Faisal Bodi wrote in the Guardian: "Labour politicians have cultivated the "community leader", the modern-day equivalent of the village chief, whose unique selling point is that he can bring in the vote of the particular ethnic sub-category he belongs to, be it by fair means or rigged postal votes." This seeking of votes goes beyond the shores of the island nation. "According to the bishop of Rochester, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, himself of Pakistani origin, a number of Labour MPs with large numbers of Muslim voters need the support of various Islamic leaders in Pakistan who tell their followers in Britain how to vote."

It is a reasonable expectation that the media engender debate on topics that are of interest and of importance to society. In the author’s opinion, when it comes to discussing Islamism in Britain, the media has practiced self-censorship at best, if not outright intellectual dishonesty. Two incidents cited are the murder of "Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who was killed for questioning Islamic attitudes to women", or the protests "over the publication in Denmark of a batch of cartoons linking the Prophet Mohammed with violence".

If Muslims, even those born and raised in Britain, were to take up terrorism, surely the fault could not be all lain at the door of either Islam, or radical Islam, or the Muslim community. That is only a very reasonable position to take. The author is also on board with this position. So the fault must be shared with Britain also, right? Yes, sort of. The author seizes upon the ‘liberal’ ethos and casts an accusatory finger upon it. Things get wider in scope from here. But let’s look at the author’s articulation. The author believes that the process of radicalizing started more than three decades ago, in the 1970s, when Muslim immigrants arrived in large numbers from "Pakistan, Bangladesh and India" to "work in the cotton mills in England’s northern industrial towns such as Bradford and Burnley, Oldham and Rotherham." These immigrants' faith was "largely influenced by introspective, gentle Sufism and was thus passive and quiescent." But all that changed in "in the space of a few years" and "it became an increasingly activist faith centered on the mosques, which were transmitting a highly radicalized ideology."  "Such young men, stranded between the mores of Mirpur village life on the one hand and the degraded nihilism of British "liberal" society on the other, are thus easy prey for the puppet-masters of terror."

Ok, if she says so. And then there is a roadhouse punch at Islamic society itself:
"What makes these fragile egos yet more vulnerable still, moreover, is the pathological inferiority complex that afflicts Muslim society, the exaggerated notions of shame and honor which mean that every slight turns into a major grievance, disadvantage morphs into paranoia, and Islam itself is perceived to be under siege everywhere."
One gets the impression that she really wanted to take a sledgehammer at all of Asian Third World, but perhaps thought it more politically correct, in a manner of speaking, to direct this broadside against Muslim society, obligatory refrains of avoiding stereotyping notwithstanding.

So why are liberals to blame for this? Well, if I understand the line of thinking taken by the author, and this is a simplification, it is because liberals hate capitalism and capitalists. The United States is the embodiment of capitalism. Preconceived notions and stereotypes of Jews mean that Jews are associated with capitalism. Hence the liberal hatred of Jews. Fundamental Christians have, on their part, believed, and have been taught, that Jews murdered Jesus. Hence Jews are evil, and hence Jews need to be eliminated. There is an actual theological doctrine that exists to justify this. Known as ""replacement theology," or "supercessionism,", it goes like this: "going back to the early Church Fathers and stating that all God’s promises to the Jews - including the land of Israel - were forfeit because the Jews had denied the divinity of Christ. This doctrine lay behind centuries of Christian anti-Jewish hatred until the Holocaust drove it underground." Islamists, on their part, have bought into the wholesale portrayal of of Jews as evil - "Drawing on a theological animosity, it is based on the belief that the Jews are a Satanic force and a conspiracy to destroy Islam and rule the world; and that, since the Jews control Western society, it follows that Israel is the forward flank of the West's attempt to subjugate Muslims everywhere ... Fixating upon the early conflict between the Prophet Mohammed and the Jewish tribes of seventh-century Arabia, the Islamists became obsessed with the archetype of a universal Jew, treacherous by nature, whose perfidy threatened not only Islam but all humanity."

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and hence the liberal’s chumminess with Islamists. One can see strong traces of this line of thinking on the part of liberals also manifest itself in India, where there is a strong aversion to criticism of Islamic terrorism, or to ask searching questions of Islamists in India who covertly or overtly broadcast messages of hate against non-believers.

Conclusion:
The book has what I would call a definite right-wing, nationalist, Christian conservative slant.  The author herself does not shy away from it. She argues that these are in fact required for the maintenance of peace in British society. If, however, it was just that, the book could have been easily dismissed. However, what elevates the book from the ranks of a xenophobic screed is the fact that it is well-researched, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Yes, there is a selective cherry-picking of facts and a selective interpretation too, but even taking both into account, this book still raises several questions about the direction the nation of Britain is taking, the culpability of its politicians, and whether its Muslim clergy and intellectuals wants their community to be held hostage to the philosophy of its fringe fundamentalists.

The  other issue that people may find with the book is its sweeping pronouncements heralding the end of Britain and of Western society in general. Consider this, "What if, instead of holding the line for Western culture against the Islamic jihad, Britain is sleepwalking into the arms of the enemy?" Or "In the United States, at least there are wars over culture; in Britain, there has been a rout."

In some cases the flowery prose is outright bizarre. Like where she writes, "helping sow the dragon’s teeth from which would spring the killers". I stopped counting how many metaphors had been mixed and mangled.

For Indians this book should hold an added element of interest. The reason should not be difficult to find. Terrorism, especially terrorism inflicted in the name of and by radical Islamists, has been borne by India for over twenty years. Many of the topics that the book dwells upon are equally germane in India too. Any and all attempts to debate the theological basis for such radicalism are quickly shouted down by equally radicalized voices.

Lastly, it is somewhat ironic that Britain today stands at the junction of trying to assimilate heterogeneous cultures, religions, and identities, while still providing enough space for these identities to preserve their uniqueness. It is after all Britain that pursued a considered policy of racial and religious divisiveness in the Indian subcontinent for two centuries. Whether it was to make caste the sole differentiating factor among Hindus, or using a manufactured Aryan Invasion theory to divide North and South Indians, or pitting Hindus vs. Muslims, it was all part of what Lord Elphinstone called a "divide et impera" policy. One is tempted, almost, to use the phrase that the chickens have come home to roost, or the other phrase that stings even more - "as you sow, so shall you reap".

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Londonistan_(term)
www.melaniephillips.com/londonistan

Kindle ebook Excerpt:




--> © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

After the Prophet, Part 4

Deeply Sympathetic, Gripping Page-Turner. Though At Times Overly Melodramatic Narrative.
(KindleAmazonFlipkart, my review on Amazon)
5 stars

Part 4 - The End of Ali, and the Beginning of the Split.  (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Thus outmaneuvered, as Ali's army began the march back to Kufa, the murmurs of disappointment began to arise. Rather than confront their own gullibility, some turned an accusatory finger at Ali. The leader of the disgruntled was Abdullah ibn Wahb, and they were to be the "first Islmaic fundamentalists". The name Abdullah ibn Wahb "still reverberates in the Islamic world since it calls to mind Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect." Wahb and his followers accused Ali of sinning by entering into an agreement with Muawiya. Yet it was Ali's followers who had forced him into negotiations. Wahb would hear none of it, and argued that he had repented, and so was clear of sin. Ali would have to do the same. Wahb, and some three thousand of his followers, left and,  "Fifty miles north of Kufa they established a new settlement on the Tigris at Nahrawan. It was to be a haven of purity"

These self-proclaimed purists, fundamentalists, "began to terrorize the countryside around Nahrawan, submitting everyone they caught to a kind of mini Inquisition. If the answers failed to satisfy their rigid standards, the punishment was death. Matters came to a head when they chose the farmer son of an early companion of Muhammad’s as their victim." The gory end that the farmer and his wife and their unborn son met is too barbaric to imagine, but it is nonetheless instructional to reproduce it here:
"They made the farmer kneel and watch as they disemboweled his wife, cut out the unborn infant, and ran it through with a sword. Then they cut off the farmer’s head."
Wahb's reply to Ali's demand that they surrender the killers was typical. "All of us are their killers. And all of us say: Your blood, Ali, is now halal - permitted - for us."
Note here that for these fundamentalists, not even the Prophet's son-in-law and adopted son meant anything. Theirs was an implacable fury. You could transport these words into the twentieth century, the twenty-first century, and you will find any number of radicals spouting the same rubbish, with the same zeal and deluded self-belief.

And so Ali led a Muslim army against Muslims at Nahrawan, and less than four hundred of the "Rejectionists" survived.

Meanwhile, things went from bad to worse for Ali. Muawaiya's chief of staff, Amr, represented him at the arbitrations with Ali, who was represented by the ageing and simple Abu Musa. Those arbitrations ended in disaster, with Muawiya proclaiming himself as a second Caliph. Things got even worse when, in response to an imminent invasion of Egypt by Amr, Ali sent one of his "most experienced generals" to help shore up Egypt's defenses. The general was welcomed by the chief customs officer, who offered Ali's general "the customary honeyed drink in welcome." The drink was laced with poison, and the general was dead within hours. Egypt fell soon thereafter. Muhammad Abu Bakr, Aisha's half-brother and Ali's stepson, was hunted down and killed.
"...the Syrian soldiers carried out their revenge for Othman on the man who had led his assassins. Ignoring orders to take Abu Bakr alive, they sewed him into the rotting carcass of a donkey, then set it on fire. Some accounts have it that he was already dead by then; others, that he was still alive and burned to death."
If the brother was a demon, the sister was no less sadistic. "Muawiya’s sister Umm Habiba", sent Aisha a "'condolence gift' of a freshly roasted leg of lamb, dripping with bloody juices. The accompanying message read: 'So was your brother cooked.'"

Ali's end also came soon after - "at dawn on Friday, January 26, in the year 661, midway through the monthlong fast of Ramadan. Ali had walked to the mosque in Kufa for the first prayer of the day" A Rejectionist, hiding, fell upon Ali, and opened a large wound on his head with a sword. While the wound was not fatal, the poison laced on the sword was. What of the assassin? Ali forbade his followers from not only any reprisals but also forbade his followers from mutilating the assassin.
"And do not inflict mutilation on this man, for I heard the Messenger of God say, 'Avoid mutilation, even on a vicious dog.'"
As per Ali's last wishes, Ali's sons set his shrouded corpse on his favourite camel, and "gave it free rein". The camel "knelt some six miles east of Kufa, atop a barren, sandy rise - najaf in Arabic - and there his sons buried the man"

And thus Najaf would come to be the first of the two holy cities in Iraq, where Ali was buried - "revered by all Muslims, but by two very different titles: the first Imam of Shia Islam, and the last of the four rashidun, the Rightly Guided Caliphs of Sunni Islam."

(... to be concluded)

http://www.aftertheprophet.com/
The Accidental Theologist
After the Prophet by Lesley Hazleton « Knopf Doubleday - Doubleday
@accidentaltheo

Kindle Excerpt:



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© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Ch 297 - Anudyuta Parva


297 chapter (overall). Ch 72 of Sabha Parva
Reading of Chapter 297 (overall), chapter 72 (within the Sabha Parva)
(Anudyuta Parva: 28th Parva as per the 100-Parva classification; Sabha Parva: 2nd parva as per the 18-Parva classification)
(read from Mahabharata Volume 2 (The complete, unabridged Mahabharata)translated by Bibek Debroy)


Direct YouTube link to Ch 297: http://www.youtube.com/embed/mUspbBVlqDQ

The Anudyuta Parva is the 28th Parva as per the 100-parva classification of the Mahabharata, and is itself a part of Sabha Parva. The Sabha Parva is the second parva as per the 18-parva classification of the Mahabharata.

This is the last chapter in the Anudyuta Parva, and also the last chapter in the Sabha Parva.
In this chapter, Sanjaya asks Dhritarashtra the reason for his worries, and Dhritarashtra recounts the aftermath of the exile of the Pandavas, the ill-omens in the skies, the anger of the priests, the braying of animals, and more.

Thus ends Anudyuta Parva, and with it the Sabha Parva.

I have read this chapter from Vol.2 of Bibek Debroy's translation of the unabridged Mahabharata. You can find my review of the volume here.
Mahabharata Volume 2 (The complete, unabridged Mahabharata) (Amazon.comKindleFlipkart)

Kindle ebook Excerpt:


 


© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Ch 296 - Anudyuta Parva


296 chapter (overall). Ch 71 of Sabha Parva
Reading of Chapter 296 (overall), chapter 71 (within the Sabha Parva)
(Anudyuta Parva: 28th Parva as per the 100-Parva classification; Sabha Parva: 2nd parva as per the 18-Parva classification)
(read from Mahabharata Volume 2 (The complete, unabridged Mahabharata)translated by Bibek Debroy)


Direct YouTube link to Ch 296: http://www.youtube.com/embed/7DcZ7JGIowo

The Anudyuta Parva is the 28th Parva as per the 100-parva classification of the Mahabharata, and is itself a part of Sabha Parva. The Sabha Parva is the second parva as per the 18-parva classification of the Mahabharata.

Kunti is heartbroken to see their sons leave, and speaks to them. She is equally distraught at seeing her daughter-in-law, Droupadi, in this state, and this short chapter covers Kunti's farewell to her sons and daughter-in-law.

I have read this chapter from Vol.2 of Bibek Debroy's translation of the unabridged Mahabharata. You can find my review of the volume here.
Mahabharata Volume 2 (The complete, unabridged Mahabharata) (Amazon.comKindleFlipkart)

Kindle ebook Excerpt:


 


© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dwarkadhish Temple, Rukmini Temple, Dwarka, Gujarat

Autorickshaw, parked at the edge of Aji Dam, outside Rajkot, Gujarat
This is a post about the temple city of Dwarka. Not the Dwarka in Uttar Pradesh, but the Dwarka where Lord Krishna escaped to and established the city of Dwarvati to escape from the repeated attacks by his uncle Kansa's father-in-law Jarasandha. On a more modern footing, the town of Dwarka falls within the district of Jamnagar, and is in the state of Gujarat. Jamnagar is famous for the massive refineries and petrochemical plants run by the Tata, Reliance, and Essar groups.

There are two ways to get to Dwarka, and while all routes do lead to God, on the more physical plane, you can either approach it from the coastline that runs along the southern border of Gujarat. This would mean driving past Diu, Somnath, Porbandar, and on to Dwarka. NH 51  runs along this coast and is mostly in bad shape, and driving is slow.

The other option is to take the Ahmedabad-Rajkot state highway, proceed on to Dhrol, and then via Jamnagar, Khambaliya, and on to Dwarka. This is a beautiful highway, and the four-laning work there is nearing completion. This particular stretch below is from the state highway SH25, a short distance from Rajkot, on the way to Jamnagar.