Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Merry Christmas, or Happy Holiday?

Although more than two billion Christians in the world observe Christmas one way or another, it is increasingly becoming a bone of contention between Christians and others who do not believe in it. Most vocal among the latter are atheists who openly resent the observance of Christmas in the public square -- such as government offices, shopping malls, sidewalks and the like. They refer to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that stipulated the principle of separation of the Church and State.

Reciprocation of Greetings

I come from Bangladesh where almost 83% of the total population of over 150 million are Muslims, 16% Hindus, and 1% Buddhists, Christians, and animists. From my experience I can say that on the Muslim feast day of Eid they greet us Eid Mubarak (Blessed Feast or Festival) and on Christmas day we greet them and others Shuvo Borodin (Merry Christmas). In response, we or they reciprocate the greetings by saying the same words. This way we do not become Muslims, neither do they become Christians.

Insistence on Replacing Merry Christmas with Happy Holiday

In the West, especially in North America, atheists and some others want that public religious manifestations, including the Christmas greeting, be banned altogether. They insist that Merry Christmas be replaced with Happy Holiday. Happy Holiday? Which holiday? The week-end holiday of Saturday or Sunday?

Through their writings, posters and other media they bombard Christians with the call for rejection of Christmas, terming it a fictitious story or a legend at best. They propound that there is no historical or scientific basis even for the existence of Jesus Christ, let alone the incarnation of the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

Hitchensian Attempts for Discrediting Religions, including Christianity

Self-avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote an article under the heading "Why I Hate Christmas" in the National Post, a daily newspaper of Canada, on December 23. He enumerated his hate for and the futility of observing Christmas. The whole article oozes out his abhorrence, arrogance and a torrent of negative attitude toward this important feast. He used a dark picture and words that can be abundantly found in the dictionary of negativity.

In response to his article, Ed Tigchelaar, a reader of the National Post aptly mentioned in the Letters to the Editor column: "Christopher Hitchens' column is the voice of a man with a burden. Consider his words: hate, nightmare, core objection, dismal, dreary, sinister, maddening, repetitive ululations (howling, hooting, wailing), objectionable, flung aside, drivel. Contrast [these] with: love, joy, peace, radiance, happiness, adoration, praiseworthy, good naturedly, contentment, satisfaction, light, jingle bells. Who would you rather be? For as a man thinketh, so is he."

There is also a saying: "You are what you eat." In reference to Mr. Hitchens I like to add here that "You are what you write." I remember a quote of the optimistic and smiling pope, John XXIII, who had written in one of his diaries: "I never met a pessimist who accomplished any good."

Religion-jumping (first he was an Anglican, then he joined the Eastern Orthodox Church and later turned into an atheist) and political bed-hopping (first he was a Trotskyite or of the extreme left, and now he is leaning towards the centre and right) Mr. Hitchens plays on words. He uses a lot of double-entendres verging on sarcasm and dark humor. In 1997 before the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he wrote a book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, where he termed Mother Teresa "Hell's Angel" and accused her of accepting donations from shady-charactered politicians and other donors. In 2007, he wrote another book, god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In the latter case, he does not want to write the word God with capital g because to him God is only a fictional character. Muslims praise God by saying "Allahu Akbar", meaning "God is Great". Mr. Hitchens tried to show in the book that there is no God and God is not great either. It is interesting to note that Mr. Hitchens made a lucrative career out of dealing negatively with established religions and persons.

In the history of mankind, there were serious attempts by men, including those powerful atheistic leaders of the Soviet Union and China, to erase the very idea of God from the mind of the masses. They have failed miserably. The Soviet Union perhaps was the first country in the world to officially take atheism as the state policy, but within 74 years the country itself disintegrated. The Chinese government is gradually allowing religious practices. The atheistic government of Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro ultimately sponsored the Eastern Orthodox Church to erect a cathedral in the country!

Atheists insist on the science as the foundation of belief -- that is, the religious matters should be scientifically proven. It has been established again and again that man cannot live by science alone.

Christmas Greeting

Christians have the right to use Christmas greeting according to their religious conviction. If some people cannot accept that greeting they are not bound to reciprocate. During their feast days people of other religions, too, should be able to greet others according to their customs. If anyone wants to greet differently, e.g. Happy Holiday, let him or her do so. This mutual acceptance and toleration make a society great. Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!


Graphic design (Toronto: 2008) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Tomorrow is Christmas -- the solemn feast of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christianity it is the second most important feast after the Easter.

Christmas brings joy, hope and a sense of fulfillment to more than two billion Christians in the world. It brings joy because two thousand years ago Christ came to save mankind from the bondage of sin perpetrated by Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. It brings hope, for, through Christ we can overcome evil and lead a godly life. It brings a sense of fulfillment because God's promise of sending a messiah or saviour has been fulfilled with the birth of Jesus.

Christmas has two aspects -- religious and social. Religious tradition comprises special liturgical service and songs commemorating the nativity of Jesus, and the social tradition varies from region to region -- Christmas gift and card exchange, caroling from house to house, decorating Christmas trees, Santa Claus, special illumination and fireworks, wearing new costumes and enjoying local treats.

Again wish you all Shuvo Borodin (Merry Christmas)! Bookmark and Share

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Iraqi Christians on the Run

Christians, one of the oldest and most silent minority communities in Iraq, are facing an ever increasing displacement, death and destruction because of sectarian and extremist harassment and violence. Before the US invasion in March, 2003, about a million Christians comprised of 5 percent of the total population. In the last five years their number shrank to less than 3 percent.

According to the Annuario Pontificio 2008, about 66 percent of Iraqi Christians are Catholics belonging to the Chaldean Church. Others belong to the Armenian, Assyrian and Syriac Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Twenty Percent of All Iraqi Refugees Abroad Are Christians

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See providing humanitarian support to the churches and peoples of the Middle East, reports that around 400,000 or 40 percent, of Christians fled the country and they make up around 20 percent of all Iraqi refugees. From the 600,000 Christians remaining in the country, many are displaced to Northern Iraq.

One Archbishop Killed

Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho

Carl Hetu, CNEWA Canada National General Secretary, writes in its newsletter: "On Easter Sunday 2008, as Christians everywhere celebrated Jesus' resurrection, the Christians of Iraq took no joy in the most joyous day of the liturgical year. Instead, they were grieving for Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, the martyred leader of the Chaldean Church in Mosul, and lamenting the fate of their troubled religious community."

In late February, 2008, religious extremists kidnapped the archbishop and two weeks later his body was found in a shallow grave. Carl Hetu continues: "The martyrdom of Archbishop Rahho is a perfect symbol of the tragedy that has befallen the Church in Iraq. Since Saddam Hussain's fall from power, extremists and criminals have kidnapped and murdered men, women and children. They have burned churches and driven families from their homes. After five years of war, few Christians remain in central Iraq. Thousands have fled to the north of the country and still more are leaving it entirely."

Pope Benedict XVI has called on Catholics to reach out to "our beleaguered brothers and sisters in Christ."

After the US invasion of Iraq, extremists began to suspect that local Christians were in league with the Americans. Consequently, Christians have been facing numerous harassment and violence.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shoeing in Iraq: The Second "Shock and Awe"

When US President George W. Bush, on an unannounced fourth visit to Iraq, was speaking at a news conference in Baghdad on December 14, an irate Iraqi journalist threw both of his shoes at him. Mr. Bush ducked and was able to avoid the flying shoes coming straight at him one after the other. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was also standing beside the US President, who was on a farewell visit to Iraq before the end of his second term of office on January 20, 2009.

Muntazer al-Zaidi, 29, a Shia journalist with the Iraqi-owned al-Baghdadiyah TV network in Egypt, yelled at the speaking President and said in Arabic: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" The security guards overpowered the journalist and took him in custody. The audience was stunned at the incident, but President Bush vainly tried to brush aside the incident with a humour.

Iraqi and American security services checked the shoes thoroughly to ensure that they did not contain explosives and then destroyed them.

"Shock and Awe"

The unexpected behaviour of the journalist marks another shock and awe after the US invasion and bombing of Baghdad, triumphantly termed as "shock and awe" by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defense Secretary in 2003. The shoe-throwing incident is a shock because the US President being the head of the most powerful nation in the world faced hurling shoes in the most secured zone in Iraq and an awe because a mere journalist at the risk of his life did the daring.

What the Iraqi journalist did is against the accepted norms and ethics of journalism. A journalist in now way should involve himself in the event that he covers. By actively engaging himself in the event he becomes a partisan and thus he loses his journalistic neutrality, credibility and power of judgment.

Yet Muntazer al-Zaidi acted as he did and vented his anger at President Bush. His action is symptomatic of the general feeling of resentment and rage against the American occupation and presence in Iraq. That's why he was instantly hailed as a hero in the region.

Shoes in a Cultural Context

In most Asian cultures, used shoes are considered to be filthy because they tread on dirt, germs, and animal and human waste on the mud paths and roads. That's why people leave their shoes outside the doors before entering houses, places of worship and the like. Moreover, regular washing of feet has a prominent place in many societies.

Kicking a person with a shoe, throwing a shoe at him, or making someone wear a garland of old shoes is considered an extreme form of insult. Besides, calling a person a "dog" or "child of a dog" is also disparaging. In the Indian subcontinent there is a tradition of making a criminal or antisocial person wear a garland of shoes and parading publicly on streets in face of mockery and even physical abuse of the onlookers. The purpose is to reform him or teach him a lesson for his vile deeds. Indian subcontinental countries also have a common term joota maara (to thrash with a shoe) used when intended to insult or punish a person for his or her unacceptable words or actions. In Bengali, the language prevalent in Bangladesh and the State of West Bengal in India, joota-peta kawra (to repeatedly strike someone with a shoe) is another term used for the same purpose.

I don't think that President George W. Bush could realize this cultural context of shoes. Could he?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Bangladesh Victory Day


The Jatiyo Smriti Shoudha (National War Memorial) 
at Savar, near Dhaka, on Nov. 19, 1986
© Jerome D'Costa)

Bangladesh observes its 37th Bijoy Dibosh (Victory Day) tomorrow. This victory was achieved at the cost of three million lives, about 10 million displaced persons within its borders and outside, 300,000 raped women, and over a billion dollars worth of infrastructure and property destroyed.

Independence of Pakistan

After 190 years of British rule, the Indian subcontinent won independence in August, 1947. The Hindu-majority regions became India and Muslim-majority areas Pakistan. Pakistan again was divided into East Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (presently Pakistan). These two sections of Pakistan had about 1,000 miles of Indian territory between them. This odd configuration of the country also symbolized marked differences between the two sections of Pakistan.

Differences Between the East and West Pakistanis

Except the religion of Islam, the people of East Pakistan and West Pakistan completely differed in physical structure and skin colour, food habits, dress, intellect and attitude, culture and language. There was only peripheral similarity in religion. The East Pakistani Muslims observed syncretic and more tolerant Islam, whereas the West Pakistanis observed conservative to fundamentalist Islam.

Most of the Muslim leaders, giving leadership in the independence movement against the British, were of Farsi or Urdu speaking background and they were living in northern India. After independence, they naturally moved to West Pakistan, where Farsi and Urdu were also in use to a certain extent, and formed the new central government of Pakistan. Everything was being administered and controlled from West Pakistan. From the very beginning, East Pakistan, instead of being equal with West Pakistan, was in the secondary position and was being treated almost as an "administered territory."

The State Language Crisis and the East-West Discrimination

The effort of the ruling elite to impose Urdu as the state language of Pakistan was mostly resisted by Bengali-speaking students of East Pakistan. Ultimately on February 21, 1952 police fired on protesting students in Dhaka and killed three university students and two other non-students. This incident had country-wide repercussion. On May 7, 1954 Pakistan government recognized Bengali along with Urdu as two state languages of Pakistan. The Constituent Assembly ratified it on February 26, 1956. This language movement aroused Bengalee nationalism that culminated in independence of Bangladesh.

The unceasing and unabashed exploitation -- whether political , economic, social or religious -- of East Pakistan by West Pakistan and conscious struggle for Bengali identity and cultural freedom led to deep resentment among the East Pakistani educated class. Different student movement of the decade led to mass movement in 1969 and brought about the downfall of the military ironman Ayub Khan. It also led to overwhelming victory of the Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the election of December 7, 1970. The Awami League won 160 seats out of 162 seats of the Pakistan National Assembly in East Pakistan. With this victory he became the leader of the majority party destined to lawfully form the central government of Pakistan. In this election the East Pakistani overwhelmingly gave support to the Awami League's six-point demands seeking greater regional autonomy for East Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Deprived of His Right of Being the Prime Minister

The military elite and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the then leader of Pakistan People's Party, that received the second highest number of National Assembly seats, openly expressed their opposition to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's forming the government. In the name of negotiation for handing over the power to him, the military were heavily arming themselves in East Pakistan. The Bengalees were losing patience and there were several unhappy incidents between the Bengalees and Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims, who, due to communal riots, had previously fled to East Pakistan as refugees from the Bihar province of India. These Biharis always supported the Urdu-speaking West Pakistani ruling class.

The War of Independence

The East Pakistanis started a country-wide non-cooperation with the existing military government. On the night of March 25, 1971, there came the deadly military crackdown in Dhaka city where thousands of unarmed people, including university students and Bengalee policemen, were killed in cold blood, many houses and shanties were burned down, and numerous others were wounded.

After receiving Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's written note on the declaration of independence, the Bengalee Major Ziaur Rahman, on March 27 declared independence of East Pakistan as the People's Republic of Bangladesh over a makeshift radio station at Kalurghat near Chittagong. The Awami League also formed the Bangladesh government in exile. Thus began the 9-month Bangladesh War of Independence. During this war about eight million inhabitants of varous religious and ethnic groups fled and took refuge in India, the country that was always on the lookout for ways to weaken its rival Pakistan. Getting this opportunity out of the blue, India took full advantage of it and provided guerrilla warfare training to thousands of East Pakistani refugee youths organized into Mukti Bahini (liberation force).

These guerrillas for a few months indiscriminately attacked Pakistani army posts in different parts of East Pakistan and almost broke down the enemy morale. Pakistan as a last resort, declared war on India on December 4, 1971, but, in face of superior Indian army aided by the Mukti Bahini, lost it with the full surrender of its forces consisting of 90,000 soldiers and paramilitary men in East Pakistan on December 16, 1971. The embattled East Pakistan emerged as the full-fledged independent nation of Bangladesh.

Pope John Paul II on an official visit to Bangladesh
pays homage at the National War Memorial at Savar
on Nov. 19, 1986
(Photo © Jerome D'Costa)

War Crimes Unpunished, Reparations Still Due

After the long-awaited independence, Bangladesh started from the scratch. Under foreign pressure and influence it could not try the war criminals and until now it failed to receive due reparations for the wealth it lost to the West Pakistanis. It is ironic that Pakistan always declared its unconditional allegiance to Islam that speaks of love and justice, but it has been acting as a coward by not expressing its simple regret for its deliberately discriminatory and unjust role in East Pakistan.

Do you think that the Government of Bangladesh should actively pursue the issue of war crimes and genocide with the United Nations Human Rights Commission and related agencies?
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