The Two Roots of ISIS

It is important to distinguish between the political and the religious roots of ISIS.
The political roots relate to past Western colonial injustices which include political domination, economic exploitation, imperialistic map-making, cultural marginalization, and the like. It is not unlike the masses in a country rising against decades of the ruthless dictatorship of a tyrant, with shouts of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In so far as this is the only cause, it may be applauded even if it causes the indiscriminate use of the guillotine.
     The religious roots of ISIS are more ominous. Every religion, whether human-constructed or Divinity-inspired, has several dimensions. One of these involves the treatment of fellow humans. Here, practically all religions teach love, charity, caring and the like. But most traditional religions also preach caution towards the stranger, antipathy towards the outsider, sometimes bordering on belligerent behavior towards the unbeliever. [There are ample passages in all scriptures that proclaim these attitudes.] Given that some of these are etched in the hearts of many ardent practitioners from an early age, it is difficult to extricate oneself from these.
     When and wherever religious groups and leaders fan the fires of hatred and are unwilling or unable to free their tradition from the mindless venom of regarding non-believing fellow humans as deserving of death, the potential for ISIS and its equivalents in other traditions will always be there.
     Just as the nobler elements of all religions can sensitize the human heart for attitudes of sympathy and acts of love, their more hurtful dimensions can turn the shade-giving branches of religions into rotting deadwood scorched by the desert sun of vicious hate.
     The technological offshoots of science include constructive devices and curative medicines, as well as destructive weapons. Science can at best be a mass of interesting information and a resource for contriving gadgets and chemicals. Without Enlightenment its civilizing possibilities will remain latent, and its capacities for destruction can be let loose. Religion without social and secular enlightenment can become ominously pernicious too, a full-fledged danger to the civilized world. This danger can be/is actualized if the youths of a tradition are brainwashed with the zeal for ruthless killing of the other, and when sophisticated weapons come with their easy reach.
     It would therefore seem that the key to resolving the current global crisis lies – aside from maintaining and using the military superiority of the civilized world – in how well and how earnestly the leaders of religious traditions shape the minds of their growing children, inculcating in them the values of love, compassion, and enlightenment. This is not that easy in frameworks that linger in the ancient modes of religious intolerance in a world where there are billions struggling with little education and economic hope, pathetic victims of social injustice and fanatical religious leaders.

October 4, 2014

On India’s Mission to Mars

     We live in a world of political tensions, economic crises, environmental degradation, and religious hate. In the midst of all this there are also billions of people who go about their routine chores and millions too who are also engaged in art and music, in sports, plays and science. Now and again their significant achievements also hit headlines all over the world.
     One such event of enormous import was the successful entry of a spacecraft into a Mars orbit on September 23, 2014. It was launched by India’s space-scientists on November 5, 2013.
This milestone in space science should be a matter of great pride for the people of India, reflecting as it does not only the sophisticated technology that is now within India’s reach, but also the advances in the worldview of the Indian people some of whom wondered publicly in 1969 if America’s man on the moon was perhaps no more than a Hollywood stunt. In less than half a century India has come a long way from regarding Mangal (Mars) as the God of War and as a planet of astrological significance endowing its beneficiaries with bravery and self-confidence to a planet out there that is to be explored through scientific means.

     A step from astrology to astronomy is a leap from ancient to modern science; and one from astronomy to rocket science is a leap from technology to space exploration.
     In the new era of human history where globalization is a buzz-word, it is not just in trade and commerce that nations interact. We do many things, good and bad together. In this matter India has been contributing significantly to the world at large: hundreds of thousands of her sons and daughters serve as doctors and engineers, scientists and advisers in every continent.

     This is matter, not for self-glorification (after all, other nations are also active this way) for Indians, but for rejoicing that their abilities and energies are channeled in constructive ways.
     What India has achieved in this Mars mission should be regarded as a matter of pride for the human spirit, as yet another step in humanity’s stride forward in our quest for understanding. Viewed thus, India deserves to be congratulated by all who stand for science and civilization.

Sept 24, 2014