Thursday, November 26, 2015

Just Some Questions on Obamaspeak

Dr Badri Raina, Mainstream, VOL LIII No 48 New Delhi, November 21, 2015

President Obama has invited the Muslims of the world not just to some introspection but, however suavely said, some self-flagellation as well after the terror attack in Paris. The inference here seems inescapable: whatever may have been done to the “Muslim” world, beginning from the time of the usurpation of Palestine, it is they who remain both responsible for the fate that afflicts them and obliged to find all the remedies. Curiously, all that even as the powers-that-be also tell us that terrorism has no religion.

Some questions then seem to beg themselves: is every German to be held responsible for the holocaust and obliged to carry on self-flagellating for what the Third Reich did? Is everyone in the Christian world to be held guilty for the sixty million deaths of non-White people that took place during the slave trade? (See Howard Zinn, Peoples’ History of the United States) Is every American culpable for that first genocide of modern history, namely, the extermination of the “Red Indians”, or that first and most horrendous act of terrorism, namely, the use of the atom bomb which annihilated some two hundred thousand innocent Japanese at one go? Is every Catholic to be held responsible for the Inquisition? Is every Russian to be thought guilty of assenting to the Stalinist purges? And, nearer home, is every Hindu complicit in the assassi-nation of Mahatma Gandhi, or the atrocities committed by the LTTE, culminating in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? Must every Hindu be required to self-flagellate for what a Colonel Purohit or a Sadhvi Pragya or an Aseemanand has allegedly done? Or, every Sikh in the violence perpetrated by Khalistani separatists, leading to the the murder of Indira Gandhi? Or, must every Buddhist in the world do penance for the excesses committed by the state in Sri Lanka or in Myanamar? If so, we do here have a call for global self-flagellation, no one excepted.

Continues >>

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Karl Marx viewed Religion

 Karl Marx

Nasir Khan, November 24, 2015
Note: I am reproducing one section of Chapter 4 (pp. 146-153) from my book, Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings (1995). My aim is to present Marx’s ideas on religion in the context of his theory of alienation for a wider audience. For complete abbreviations and references, see the book (link provided at the end of this paper).

For Marx religion is primordially an active form of ideological alienation, where inverted world-consciousness and mystification become the essential elements of the alienative process. Marx’s writings show that he hardly ever thought it worthwhile to discuss theological formulations or religious dogmas. The question of religious consciousness for Marx was a matter of little interest. Karl Löwith writes: ‘By advancing towards the criticism of man’s material conditions, Marx does not simply leave behind the criticism of religion but rather assumes it on a new level; for though, on the basis of the social-political world, religion is but a false consciousness, the question has still to be answered: Why did this real world at all develop an inadequate consciousness? If we assume with Feuerbach that the religious world is only a self-projection of the human world, one has to ask: Why do the latter project the first and create a religious superstructure? . . . It is not enough to state with Feuerbach that religion is a creation of man; this statement has to be qualified by the further insight that religion is the consciousness of that man who has not yet returned from his self-alienation and found himself at home in his worldly conditions’ (Löwith 1949, 48, 49).

Marx’s approach to religion in his early thinking can be seen in his letter of November 1842 to Arnold Ruge, where he says that ‘religion should be criticised in the framework of criticism of political conditions rather than that political conditions should be criticised in the framework of religion … for religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself’ (CW1, 394-95). If religion is without any content, then the whole problematic of religion can be reduced to a particular mode of products and as such it is always a reflection of the material historical developments. In Anti-Dühring, Engels writes: ‘All religion, however, is nothing but the fantastic reflection in men’s minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces. In the beginnings of history, it was the forces of nature which were so reflected and which in the course of further evolution underwent the most manifold and varied personifications among the various peoples . . . But it is not long before, side by side with the forces of nature, social forces begin to be active — forces which confront man as equally alien and at first equally inexplicable, dominating him with the same apparent natural necessity as the forces of nature themselves’ (Engels 1978, 382-83). In this lucid exposition, Engels points to the roots of religion in the early phase of historical development of mankind. At this stage, the primitive man comes to the realisation of his helplessness when he is face to face with the gigantic and mighty forces of nature. His effort to appease these, leads to primitive nature worship. But at a later stage under the antagonistic class society, the exploited classes of society face to face with the social oppression, and in their helplessness give birth to and foster religion, the belief in a better life hereafter, the alleged reward for suffering on earth (see Foreword to Marx & Engels 1972, 8).

In this connection, Kostas Axelos, the French Marxist of Arguments group, sums up the Marxian position: ‘Being the expression of impotence and alienation, religion in turn, in its own modality, alienates man from his life and from his essential forces. Far from being some kind of index of the strength of human being, religion comes about only owing to man’s weakness, his frustrations, his dissatisfactions, his alienation. An abstraction from concrete conditions, religion is a product of the alienation of man on the level of both practice and theory. Mystery, far from implying a truth of its own, veils the truth of reality and masks its own mystification’ (Axelos 1976, 160). Within the sphere of developed productive forces under the institutionalized private ownership, ‘religion begins to express the alienation of man in relation to the products of his labour as the imaginary satisfaction of unsatisfied real drives. The non-development of productive forces determines the genesis of religion, and this later development determines its subsequent “evolution” ‘ (ibid. 159-160).

At the time of writing the Introduction, Marx’s conversion to the standpoint of theoretical communism takes place. In the beginning of the essay, he excellently summarises his views on religion. Marx is referring to the philosophical critique of religion and the religious alienation accomplished by the Young Hegelians from Strauss to Feuerbach when he says: ‘For Germany, the criticism of religion is in the main complete, and criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism’ (CW3, 175). There are possibly two main reasons for Marx’s viewing of religious criticism as the premise of all criticism. First, religion stood in the way of any political change in Germany by its adamant support of the Prussian state. It meant that any change in the political sphere was possible when the powerful support of religion to the status quo was removed. Secondly, religion per se represented the most extreme form of alienation, and it was at this point that secularisation had to start; religion was the pivotal point for the criticism of other forms of alienation (see McLellan 1972, 185).

Marx succinctly summarises the accomplishment of Feuerbach’s religious philosophy:
‘The profane existence of error is discredited after its heavenly oratio pro aris et focis [speech for the altars and hearths] has been disproved. Man, who looked for a superhuman being in the fantastic reality of heaven and found nothing there but the reflection of himself, will no longer be disposed to find out but the semblance of himself, only an inhuman being, where he seeks and must seek his true reality’ (CW3, 175). Religion, in Marx’s view, was ‘the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet found himself or has already lost himself again’ (CW3, 175). The intellectual climate in which the young Marx lived was dominated by the Young Hegelians’ atheistic critique of religion. In the beginning, he shared their viewpoint, but ‘he became disenchanted with their war of words. What eventually turned Marx against philosophical forms of atheism, as he understood them, was their failure to grasp the fact that religion has a justificatory function which resists philosophical critique’ (Myers 1981, 317).

A recurrent theme in Marx’s criticism is the transformational characteristic of religion. The social structure in the first place provides the basis for the inverted world of religion because it is in itself an inverted world. In this, he differs from Feuerbach. Marx does not simply reduce religious elements to any more fundamental elements: ‘The basis of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man . . . But man is no abstract being encamped outside the world. Man is the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world’ (CW3, 175).

Marx in his evaluation of religion uses a series of illuminating metaphors to show the place of religion in an inverted world: ‘Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn compliment, its universal source of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality’ (CW3, 175). Religion, on the one hand, expresses the real social distress, and on the other, it seeks to justify the social oppression. ‘The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people’ (CW3, 175). Presumably, Marx thought that taking drugs like opium helped to bring about a condition of illusions and hallucinations; it also proved as a palliative, a consolatory refuge from the heartlessness and hardships of the real world. Religion for Marx is a medium of social illusions. An alienated and alienating human existence calls for these illusions. The need for these illusions is not illusory; it is real. Marx in his much later work, Capital, describes religious world as ‘a reflex of the real world’ (Marx 1977, 83).

Marx’s description of religion in the Introduction has sometimes been seen to contain a positive evaluation of religion. However, this view can be attributed to a perfunctory understanding of Marx’s ideas. McLellan in his book, Marxism and Religion, rightly says that if it was so, then it was an extremely backhanded compliment: ‘Religion may well represent humanity’s feeble aspirations under adverse circumstances, but the whole tenor of the passage is that religion is metaphysically and sociologically misguided and that its disappearance is the pre-condition for any radical amelioration of social conditions’ (McLellan 1987, 13).

The way to overcome religious consciousness is therefore through the changing of the conditions, which provide a material base to inverted consciousness in society. ‘A strictly materialistic critique of religion consists neither in pure and simple rejection (Bauer) nor in mere humanisation (Feuerbach) but in the positive postulate to create conditions which deprive religion of all its source and motivation. The practical criticism of the existing society can alone supersede religious criticism’ (Löwith 1949, 49). Religious persecution and coercion as a political tool only serve to strengthen the chains of religion. The critique of religion, accordingly, addresses itself to the issues in the world that produce and keep religion.

The editors of Marx and Engels: On Religion point out that ‘Marx and Engels most resolutely denounced the attempts of the anarchists and Blanquists, Dühring and others to use coercive methods against religion. . . . They proved that the prohibition and persecution of religion can only intensify religious feeling. On the other hand, Marxism, contrary to bourgeois atheism with its abstract ideological propaganda and its narrow culturalism, shows that religion cannot be eliminated until the social and political conditions which foster it are abolished’ (Marx & Engels 1972, 9). The illusory consolation of religion cannot be remedied by the removal of religion: ‘To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of vale of tears, the halo of which is religion’ (CW3, 176).

Marx in the Introduction makes it abundantly clear that the criticism of religion is not a goal in itself. The criticism of religion is only a premise for every other kind of criticism; it is not more than that. The real aim in the exposure of religion is not that it tears up the imaginary flowers camouflaging the alienated life of the people, but rather that the people ‘shake off the chain and pluck the living flower’ (CW3, 176). It is essential, therefore, that the criticism of religion becomes a criticism of politics: ‘The task of history, therefore, once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world. The immediate task of philosophy, which is at the service of history, once the holy form of human self-alienation has been unmasked, is to unmask self-alienation in its unholy forms. Thus, the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics’ (CW3, 176).

In these formulations, Marx went beyond the Young Hegelians like D.F. Strauss, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner, and Feuerbach, who criticised everything by making everything a matter of religious representation. ‘The total domination,’ writes Axelos, ‘was presupposed, and religious concepts dominated all realities and all ideas; so that, after first interpreting everything in a religious and theological way, these critical critics would attack that very domination as a usurpation of the true and natural life of man. They wanted to free man from their religious bonds. And yet, since they are the ones who viewed everything through religion, their negation of what held man in chains remained ideologically critical, abstract, theological in an anti-theological form, and simply long-winded’ (Axelos 1976, 161).

Marx’s critique of religion, on the other hand, focuses on the world from which it takes shape, and it is this malaise of alienation, which needs to be extirpated. He gives a materialist explanation to the religious consciousness. ‘Marx undertakes a critique of reality as it is and of the ideology that corresponds to it, a critique that would end by compelling the practical and revolutionary transformation of everything in existence. The battle is engaged not in the name of “philosophic truth” but in order to supersede alienation on a practical level and free both productive forces and men’ (ibid. 161).
Marx, in his early theory of alienation, views religion as a fantasy of the alienated man.
‘Religion rests on a want, a defect, a limitation. Its truth resides in practice, though religion itself, as religion, possesses no practice, just as it does not have a history of its own. Since practice, of which religion is always the sublimation, did not contain real truth, religion has been only the alienated expression of a real alienation and, of course, has contributed to the continuance of that alienation. Marx does not recognise any formative and basic role for religion . . . There is not even any question of the “divine” or the “sacred”; these are but products of the alienation of religious imagination, which is itself a by-product of alienated material production’ (ibid. 165). In Marx’s estimation, religion being a phenomenon of secondary importance merited no independent criticism. In his later works, the element of class ideology becomes his major concern.

Some writers have characterised Marxism as a religion, and have also questioned Marx’s atheism. Robert Tucker, for instance, writes: ‘The religious essence of Marxism is superficially obscured by Marx’s rejection of the traditional religions. This took the form of a repudiation of “religion” as such and espousal of “atheism”. Marx’s atheism, however, meant only a negation of the trans-mundane God of traditional Western religion. It did not mean the denial of a supreme being . . . Thus his atheism was a positive religious proposition. It rules out considerations of Marxism as a religious system of thought only if, with Marx, we equate the traditional religions with religion as such’ (Tucker 1972, 22; see also Reding 1961, 160). According to this approach, Marxism is to be analysed as a religious system within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and as such it can be assimilated in theology. Eberhard Jüngel in his book God as the Mystery of the World advocates this: ‘The Marxist critique of religion could much more easily be accepted by theology than that of Feuerbach, if the latter were not presupposed by the former. Certainly one can integrate critically the specific interest of Marx’s critique of religion into theology — and in some ways it must be done. But that is the current fashion anyway, so that there is scarcely too little being done along these lines theologically’ (Jüngel 1983, 341, footnote 43).

The positions taken by Tucker and Jüngel concerning Marx’s atheism in fact confuse the issue. Our point of departure in this matter is that Marx viewed religion, without any reservations, as a medium of social illusions, and that all the religious belief claims were false. Marx was a thoroughgoing atheist. In his writings from the earliest to the latest, there is no indication, explicit or implicit, admitting the existence of God. Marx absolutely rejects any idea of a transcendent God or a personal God (i.e. God in the human form); therefore, any religious belief claims like God becoming a human being or a human being becoming God, etc. are false and nonsensical linguistic aberrations and they are nothing more than that. Marx’s atheism cannot be reconciled with religious and theological presuppositions. The loud exclamations about God from the authoritarian pulpits cannot bring into being which is a non-being. Turner rightly suggests: ‘It simply will not do, as some Christian apologists maintain, that Marx was only a relative atheist, that he rejected only the God espoused by the Christians of his day, that this God (primarily the God of the nineteenth-century orthodox Lutheran establishments) is not the God of contemporary Christianity, or that as others suggest, his hostility to theism may have no purchase on that contemporary Christianity. Marx rejected not only particular forms of theism but also any reference whatever to a transcendent reality’ (Turner 1991, 322; see also Lobkowicz 1967, 303-35).

According to Marx, the history of the world is the creation of man through his labour, which is explicable solely with reference to man without the mediation of a divine being. In the EPM, for instance, Marx writes: ‘But since for the socialist man the entire so-called history of the world is nothing but the creation of man through human labour, nothing but the emergence of nature for man, so he has the visible, irrefutable proof of his birth through himself, of his genesis. Since the real existence of man and nature — since man has become for man as the being of nature, and nature for man as the being of man has become practical, sensuous, perceptible — the question about an alien being, about a being above nature and man — a question which implies the admission of the unreality of nature and of man — has become impossible in practice’ (EPM 100). This pronouncement leaves little room for any other interpretation of Marx except that there is no room for God in this world or anywhere else outside it.

Marx’s discussion of religion in the Introduction, shows that he was well acquainted with the Western religions and their various traditions. In OJQ and the Introduction, Marx, no doubt, has the contemporary dogmatic Lutheranism in Germany in his view, but he writes about religion in general and therein his rejection of it is absolute. For him atheism, as a negation of God was inseparable from humanism which postulates the existence of man through this negation.

Abbreviations used:
Introduction      ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
OJQ                      ‘On the Jewish Question’
EPM                   Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
CW 3                  Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 3, Moscow, 1975
For downloading the book, click on the following:
Dr. Nasir Khan. Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings March 1843 to August 1844 (1995)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Richard Falk: The Failure of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

 Ricard Falk,  Global Justice in the 21st Century,  Nov. 22, 2015

While focusing on the ‘failure’ of American foreign policy in the Middle East it is relevant to acknowledge that given the circumstances of the region failure to some degree was probably unavoidable. The argument put forward here is that the degree and form of failure reflected avoidable choices that could and should have been corrected, or at least mitigated over time, but by and large this has not happened and it is important to understand why. This analysis concludes with a consideration of three correctible mistakes of policy.

It is also true that the Middle East is a region of great complexity reflecting overlapping contradictory features at all levels of political organization, especially the interplay of ethnic, tribal, and religious tensions internal to states as intensified by regional and geopolitical actors pursuing antagonistic policy agendas. Additionally, of particular importance recently is the emergence of non-state actors and movements that accord priority to the establishment and control of non-territorial political communities, giving primary legitimacy to Islamic affinities while withdrawing legitimacy from the modern state as it took shape in Western Europe. Comprehending this complexity requires attention to historical and cultural background, societal context, and shifting grand strategies of geopolitical actors.

From many points of view American foreign policy in the Middle East has been worse than a disappointment. It has been an outright failure, especially in the period following the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Even such an ardent supporter and collaborator of the U.S. government as Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has acknowledged as much in a recent set of comments where he basically says that the West has tried everything, and whatever the tactics were relied upon, the outcome was one of frustration and failure.

Continues >>

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The struggle for freedom

Nasir Khan, Nov. 11, 2015

“Better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life.”

― Jamaican musician Bob Marley (1945-1981)
To gain freedom from social, political and religious oppression is a great thing for every sentient human being. As we know we are living in a world where the ‘ruling ideas of the age’ we are living in, are related to Power – in all its nefarious forms. Political power, economic power, social power, religious power – all such different faces of power are intertwined; they contribute to the same goals and the same targets. Politically conscious people know that the targets are the ordinary people of any given society, whether in the advanced capitalist societies or the ‘developing’ countries. If the people became aware of the overall bondages they are subjected to, they will strive for freedom.

The fact remains that only a very tiny minority develops such consciousness; for the vast majority the established order is more like the divine writ, which none should question. However, any ideas and actions to challenge the established order are not easy either; they often have unexpected harsh reactions and consequences. The revolutionaries of the past ages have shown that nothing comes without struggle. In our age, it is still the revolutionary thought and praxis of Marxism that has to ‘bear the cross’. This is despite all the howling of the jackals of reaction and their ilk.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Al-Afghani on Muslim clerics and Science

Nasir Khan, Nov. 10, 2015

“The strangest thing of all is that our ulama these days have divided science into two parts. One they call Muslim science, and one European science. Because of this they forbid others to teach some of the useful sciences. They have not understood that science is that noble thing that has no connection with any nation, and is not distinguished by anything but itself. Rather, everything that is known is known by science, and every nation that becomes renowned becomes renowned through science. Men must be related to science, not science to men.

 How very strange it is that the Muslims study those sciences that are ascribed to Aristotle with the greatest delight, as if Aristotle were one of the pillars of the Muslims. However, if the discussion relates to Galileo, Newton, and Kepler, they consider them infidels. The father and mother of science is proof, and proof is neither Aristotle nor Galileo. The truth is where there is proof, and those who forbid science and knowledge in the belief that they are safeguarding the Islamic religion are really the enemies of that religion.” — Lecture on Teaching and Learning (1882).

— Sayyid Jamal al-Din Afghani (1838 – 1897)
A short biography of Al-Afghani, a famous rationalist thinker and Pan-Islamic political activist of the 19th century:


Also known as Asadabadi because of his now-proven birth and early childhood in Asadabad in northwest Iran, Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (b. 1838/9–d. 1897) was a pioneering figure in promoting political activism to counter British encroachments in the Muslim world and in advocating Muslim unity against Western conquest. He wrote and spoke in favor of Islamic reform, modernization, science, and a variety of political ideas, including nationalism, political reform, and pan-Islam. His reformist and politically activist views influenced men involved in major political movements in Egypt from 1875 to 1883 and in Iran from 1890 to 1892. His ideas and activities have remained influential in the Muslim world. The variety of his writings, and of writings about him, have led a wide range of Muslims, from leftist reformers to religious conservatives, to honor him. In his lifetime he spent time in several countries; in chronological order of his first stay in each country, he spent time in Iran, Ottoman Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Ottoman Istanbul, Egypt, France, England, and Russia. He was expelled from Afghanistan, Istanbul, Egypt, and Iran because of his political activities. While thousands of books and articles have been written about Afghani, especially in the languages of Muslim countries, most of these have important distortions, often going back to inaccurate stories he told about himself and to an apologetic biography written by his main disciple, the Egyptian Muhammad ʿAbduh. ʿAbduh’s biography was written largely to counter what were widespread reports that he was born and raised in Shiʿi Iran and not, as he claimed, in Sunni Afghanistan, and that he was not orthodox in his beliefs and spoke in different ways to different audiences. His own writings and recorded words show that he often told different and inaccurate stories about his birth, education, nationality, religious and political views, and relations with the powerful.


The three books cited below are largely based on primary sources, some of which first became available in 1963. These documents add to the prior Iranian and other proofs that Afghani was born in northwest Iran and that he was educated in Iran and in the Shiʿi shrine cities in Ottoman Iraq. They include documents from his first trip to Afghanistan as a young man, which is also discussed in India Office documents, and from other stages of his life up to his 1891 expulsion from Iran, when he left these documents at the home of his Tehran host, Amin az-Zarb. The books, especially Keddie 1972, show that most previous biographies of Afghani were based on an apologetic account by his disciple, Muhammad ʿAbduh, who accepted Afghani’s account of an Afghan, and hence Sunni, birth and childhood. ʿAbduh also tried to refute current charges that Afghani was not an orthodox Muslim believer. Most Western and Iranian scholars accept the basic points made by Keddie 1983 and Pakdaman 1969, but several Sunni Muslim writers do not. Keddie and Pakdaman recognize the pioneering role of Afghani in spreading modern and reformist ideas in the Muslim world, his courage in opposing powerful rulers, and his innovations in methods of oppositional politics. Some Sunni authors, however, consider Afghani a great hero and reject the idea that he often did not tell the truth about his Shiʿite origins and other matters.
  • Keddie, Nikki R. Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn “al-Afghānī”: A Political Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

    This is a long, source-based biography with many quotations from Afghani and primary sources, a critical introduction regarding bibliography, and appendixes of Afghani’s letters. It evaluates a great variety of sources in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Russian, French, and English, many never before used, and has long passages quoting and translating these sources.
  • Keddie, Nikki R. An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn “al-Afghānī. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

    Hardcover originally published 1968. Half of this shorter book analyzes Afghani’s life and thought, and half has translations of some of his articles and, co-translated with Hamid Algar, an English version of the original Persian of the “Refutation of the Materialists.” This edition contains a new introduction, “From Afghani to Khomeini.”

Friday, November 06, 2015

Importance of the Separation of Religion and State

Dr Nasir Khan, November 6, 2015
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.

[Letter objecting to the use of government land for churches, 1803]”

― James Madison (1751-1836). He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and its fourth President.
While underscoring the importance of the separation of Church and State, James Madison had in view the gory history of Europe over the course of at least 18 centuries of political strife, horrifying tortures and violence because of the unquestioned power of the church over the states and within the political systems of states. The rulers had to obey the commands of the Catholic Church. After the Reformation, the Lutheran including the Calvinist churches also had immense power over the states.

In fact, the question of the separation of Church and State in a broader sense is the question of the separation of Religion and State. After the end of the medieval times, there was a movement towards the freedom of conscience. The people had to be freed from the clutches of centuries-old ironmould of Religion.

It meant a challenge to the clerical authorities who had imposed their will and their interpretations of what God may have said or ordered. Thus, the chief custodians of the divine truth who had arrogated all powers on behalf of God to themselves for so long found themselves confronting a new situation. Their monopoly over what God said was under question. That was dangerous, very dangerous!

Now some thinkers and enlightened people said what people believed in matters of a Divine Power or Religion was a personal matter; this was secularism. It was no business of the state to impose the will of the clergy on the people. According to them, people should have the freedom of conscience.

For most people, it was a novel idea; they never had anything like this for so many centuries. Thus, a revolutionary idea was introduced that had far-reaching effects. Consequently, the process of freedom of conscience and the secularisation of state and society gained more ground in most of Europe, North America and Australia, etc.

While the western countries made such inroads into enlightenment, freedom of conscience, and gave legal protection to people to believe or practise any religion, the vast majority of Muslim countries have followed a different course.

The ruling classes and the Muslim clergy became close partners to advance their respective agendas. In fact, they found Islam as a convenient tool to gain power and influence over a people who had a strong cultural identity with Islam. This they exploited to the maximum. That opened the way for the fanatics, misguided and indoctrinated people to clamour for an Islamic polity under the rule of God.

As a result, we see the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Daesh in Syria and Iraq, and many Islamist groups and organisations causing havoc. One thing: They are convinced they represent the light of Islam. They are offering the salvation to worldwide Muslim people (the ummah); the golden age of ‘Islamic truth’ and ‘Islamic justice’ is near when the Sharia laws of the seventh-century Islamic Arabia will be enforced.

In fact, many ordinary Muslims think that the era of the early Caliphs of Islam of the seventh-century Arabia will solve all their worldly problems. It is logically possible that such a golden age can emerge if there was anything like this before!

However, we may pause for a second and think (not easy though): The world has moved with the times, including the Christians of Europe and their descendants in North America and Australia, etc. How will Islamists go back from the 21st century to the seventh-century Arabia? The only possibility I can see is if Aladdin with his magic carpet appears and transports us back to our golden age, back in time. If he does that I’m sure he will give me some space on his magic carpet; I promise to report back to all of you my story from there!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Dogmatic Learning and True Knowledge

Nasir Khan, November 4, 2015

“Scholastic learning and polemical divinity retarded the growth of all true knowledge.”

— Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776)
I assume many educated readers (excluding the indoctrinated or brainwashed ones) would readily understand that by ‘scholastic learning’ David Hume meant the traditional dogmatic learning. In his days, this was the case not only in European countries but also in many other countries in Asia and Africa.

For the ordinary people – especially poor peasants, paupers and labourers – the clerics played a pivotal role in imparting some traditional knowledge that was primarily focused on religious dogmas, scriptures, rituals and rudimentary skills in writing and reading. Religious dogmas and rites were akin to knowledge, the true knowledge. Everything else was of secondary importance. However, under the impact of Renaissance and then the Enlightenment, European nations also ventured into new directions relating to teaching and learning. Nonetheless, the hold of the Church still affected the vast majority of the people.

In these times, the dominating position the clergy had enjoyed for so long has gradually weakened because of the political and social struggles of the democratic and socialist forces. Nevertheless, the situation in traditional societies in Asia remains precarious. For instance, we witness an alarming degree of institutionalised religious indoctrination that has become an accepted norm in the socio-political systems of some Muslim countries.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The self-correcting process in science

Nasir Khan, November 3, 2015 
“There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That’s perfectly all right: it’s the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process.”

― American scientist and cosmologist, Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
The body of knowledge ranging over vast areas in physical and social sciences is enormous, both in quantity and quality. While in physical sciences any new evidence may support, modify or refute any existing theories, there is a lot of laxity in the social sciences where competing theories and postulations may exist at the same time or may refute the earlier positions held by some.

However, the undercurrent that determines the course of search and research in both the physical and social sciences is the scientific method of inquiry – experimentation, gathering factual data, testing propositions, making more hypotheses along the way, etc. – that is more of a process, an incessant struggle to seek and make adjustments in the light of new information. As a result, there is no room for anyone to make claims for the end of such a ‘self-correcting process’, as Sagan aptly says.

Hiroshima Child – Poem by Nazim Hikmet

Nasir Khan, Nov, 3, 2015
Hiroshima Child – Poem by Nazim Hikmet

I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead

I’m only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind

I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead

All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play