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Race, Religion and Rationality

As seen in The Boar, University of Warwick’s student newspaper:

‘I am the prisoner of hope’ were the words spoken by Rev Reeves, founder of the Soul of Europe initiative, as he discussed how difficult it is to break down deep rooted barriers of faith and race in Eastern Europe. Listening to his missionary work in Bosnia and Serbia gave me deep reservations about the ability of human beings to respond to peace, when peace itself is considered a dirty word.

The discussion, run by the inimitable One World Week Forum team, was one of the most intellectually stimulating two hours of my time at Warwick. There was no room for rhetoric or dogma in the packed out Woods-Scawen Room of the Arts Centre, as each speaker eloquently gave a unique and intellectual take on the topic. One of my personal highlights was the presentation by Hull PhD student, Zhaleh Boyd, who discussed the ever present danger of slavery or trafficking in our society.

She commented: ‘The existence of slavery is dependent on the process of constructing otherness – the use of these differences allow certain minorities to have power over others.’ Her conclusion reflected the fact that race and religion were tools to differentiate individuals from their common values, and to focus on obscure, physical details in order to manipulate them. It was a frightening thought. The fact that someone’s name, skin colour, strength, place of birth, sex could be used to dehumanise them, and it is even more frightening that in some societies it is more commonplace than we think.

The most interesting aspect of the debate for me was the idea that religion and rationality could be used in the same sentence. It has been clear to me, especially living in a secular society, that those who have religious or spiritual beliefs are deemed to be irrational. It was refreshing to sit in a room with academics that could see the merit or religion in a world that seems to be constantly fighting it.

There is rationality in race and religion even if we choose to ignore it. Our very own chaplain, Rev Dr Alistair Kirk said: ‘The world is a religious place’ and we cannot continue to undermine this fact. We have to learn to embrace the fact that religion and race continue to do good in parts of the world that we have no contact with, with work that is funded on pittance and beans. Where only faith endures.

Even from the prosperity of One World Week itself, we can see that diversity is celebrated and promoted at a multicultural university. It is now time that our attitudes shifted towards maintaining these attitudes throughout the year. This is the legacy the co-ordinators hope to create.

Miss Al-Qaeda

After writing a post last week celebrating Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birthday and his impact on the US, and getting a very favourable and heart-warming response I must say, it was interesting to see the news yesterday. For those that haven’t had the chance to see it, the Twitter sphere went crazy last night following the results of the Miss America beauty pageant. For the first time, it has been won by an Indian.

Let me be very clear from the beginning here. I am not in any shape or form a supporter of beauty pageants, nor do I agree with the premise within which they operate. To put it simply, I don’t think that you can rank or quantify ‘beauty’. Having said that, I find it strange how such an outdated institution has dredged up a torrent of horrifying abuse, especially since the anniversary of 9/11 passed us by only a week ago. The bitterness is still there.

A lot of the tweets can be seen here, but let me give you the greatest hits. There is a lot of references to an ‘Arab’, a ‘foreigner’ and not ‘Miss America’ but ‘Miss Al-Qaeda’. The thing that struck me the most was the fact that people were adamant that ‘This is America!’ and Nina Davuluri, Miss New York and the newly crowned Miss America, did not fit into this picture. It seems that the image of America held by some Americans harks back to the days of yore, when non-Caucasians were considered to be inferior citizens. That makes sense, right?

Wrong. Let’s wrap this up nicely so that we don’t need to revisit this again. The best way to deal with idiocy is through reason, and so here is my logic. First of all, the indigenous population of the North Pacific region, now occupied by the USA and Canada, were home to the tribes of ‘Red Indians’ who are now more affectionately termed as Native Americans. Non-whites. Therefore the argument that ‘these people’ do not belong in this country is difficult to argue, when historically, they arrived first.

I was really hoping that with the instatement of the first Black President and the movement of higher ethnic immigration to America would stem this tide of racial ignorance. But these are small stepping stones in this fight. The real heavyweight is education and understanding, of which is not sufficient in Western society. There is no time, no commitment and no hunger to understand why people are different and why this should be celebrated. Instead we descend into pitiful, childish name calling and bullying.

When are we going to realise this? I’ll tell you. When it’s too late.

Exceptions – Woolwich

I am not about to wade in with a half-measured opinion about the harrowing events of this week. Instead, I am more interested in opening a real discussion about the deeper issues that go past the mere description of the actions of two sociopathic individuals. What I really want to understand is not what happened, but the wider reaction to it from normal people – because that is where the debate and ignorance really lies.

The most important question that I want to answer is why we equate terrorism with religion? It seems that more and more, as attacks and horrible events occur, we seem to jump to the conclusion that it must be down to a religious fanatic? And we tend to place the blame on more monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam – as if those who hold these beliefs are collectively at fault for the actions of a select few. I am not saying that we all harbour extreme prejudice, but I will argue, that for a split second, even if it is just an instinct, when we hear the word ‘terrorist’, do we not think of ‘(religious) extremist’?

I am no conspiracy theorist, but there seems to be serious issues with the way in which these incidents are reported. One of things that infuriated me was the way in which Nick Robinson, political editor on the BBC, referred to the perpetrators as of “Muslim descendant” based on hearsay in Whitehall, rather than actual evidence which was accumulated hours later. It was bad journalism, and by all accounts, he should have known better. There was absolutely no reason to further perpetuate the stereotype, even if he claimed that it was based on a reliable source – it was wrong.

But does that open up the real prejudices that lie just beneath the surface? It seems like we don’t even know what terrorism is anymore. Terrorism is the use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. The fact that we look to dive into the religious motivations of these idiots may be what they want us to do, but we should ignore it. We shouldn’t give them the satisfaction. When they tell us how the actions of our governments have made their lives and the lives of their ‘brothers and sisters’ intolerable, remind yourself that these people are isolated. When they tell us that we are killing innocent women and children, remember that you don’t have blood on your hands like they claim. When they tell us that they are killing in the name of their God, know that no God would condone murder in his/her name. Don’t buy into the theories of madness.

See them for who they truly are – disillusioned, violent, ignorant, stupid and most importantly, alone. They act alone and we should treat them as exceptions to the rule. Religious people are not in any way associated with terrorists, so don’t act out against them, otherwise you will be proving the excuses of the idiots that conduct these massacres. Violence begets more violence, hate begets more hate and death begets more death. Let’s stop making the same mistakes and start learning.