Saturday, 27 August 2011

The miracle that was Mother Teresa ( re-post from THE HINDU)

 Navin Chawla

Mother Teresa's path was a unique one. While she never deviated from her faith, she reached out to millions of her special constituency, the deprived and the dying, recognising their faces to be the face of her God.

A few weeks ago I visited one of Mother Teresa's Sisters who was admitted for surgery in the PGI hospital in Chandigarh. Haryana Chief Secretary Urvashi Gulati and the Principal Secretary to the Governor accompanied me that morning to Sister Ann Vinita's bedside. Attending to her in the hospital were two companion Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. In the course of conversation, one of them said that she was really happy to meet me. She went on to explain that as a young woman in Kerala, she had admired Mother Teresa's work, but it was when she chanced to read my biography of Mother Teresa that she decided to join the Order. That a young Catholic woman should have read a book written by one, who while he was unmistakably close to Mother Teresa yet did not share her faith, stunned me into silence. It made me reflect on a number of issues related and unrelated: of the strength of secular values; and of true compassion knowing no religious, ethnic, caste or geographical boundaries, and indeed being able to transcend altogether the formal contours of religious practice.

Mother Teresa understood her environment acutely. She was no evangelist in the 19th century mould. She remained true to her religion till her last breath, but chose not to impose it on others. Never once during my 23-year-long association with her did she ever suggest that her religion was the only path, or that it was in any way superior. Yet she often reminded those around her of the power of prayer. If I occasionally remarked on some initiative she had taken as a “good idea,” she would reply with a teasing smile that if I learned to pray I would get a few good ideas too! She often urged those who came to her that they must be good Hindus or Muslims or Christians or Sikhs, and in that process must learn to “find God.”

It was indicative of her success that she understood that in an overwhelmingly non-Christian India, her path had to be a unique one. So while she never deviated from her faith, she reached out to millions of her special constituency: the poorest of the poor, the leprosy sufferers, abandoned children or the hungry and dying, recognising their faces to be the face of her God. Their religious persuasion, or even its absence, hardly concerned her. In her ability to have found the middle path in an environment that could have easily become hostile, lay her genius. I once asked the legendary Chief Minster of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, what he an atheist and a Communist could possibly have in common with a Catholic nun for whom God was everything. With a smile, he replied: “We share a love for the poor.” India revered her and gave her abundantly of its honours, including the Bharat Ratna. On August 26, 2010, a five- rupee coin was released to commemorate her birth centenary.

Over the years I witnessed many incidents that I called “co-incidences” and which others might well call “miracles.” One day in the 1980s at Mother House in Kolkata, a rare medicine was needed to save the life of a child. In those days it was not manufactured in India. When hope was almost lost, and as the Sisters prayed, a carton of assorted leftover medicines was donated by an unknown benefactor. Right on top was the very drug that was needed. The child's life was saved.

On another occasion, Mother Teresa arrived in Delhi from abroad. I was at the airport to receive her. Her flight was late. As she got off, anxiety was writ over her face. “You must get me on the flight to Calcutta. There is a dying child here; I am carrying a new medicine.” I told Mother that was impossible. Her flight had been late, and the last Calcutta-bound Indian Airlines flight was boarding. Mother Teresa's own luggage was also yet to come. But as word spread at the airport, the seemingly impossible happened. The first few items of luggage on the conveyer belt happened to be her cardboard cartons (she never owned a suitcase!). Someone informed air traffic control of Mother Teresa's efforts. The pilot happened to be a Calcutta man. Suddenly I was asked if I could drive Mother Teresa in my car to the tarmac — and she caught her flight. I rang her the next morning. The child had been administered the medicine on her arrival, and was now out of danger. “It is a first-class miracle,” said Mother Teresa.

Far from once not believing in miracles, I am now in little doubt that Mother Teresa's life itself was a miracle. Witness the facts: as a child of 14 in her native Albania, her imagination was stirred by the stories she heard from the Jesuit Fathers of their work in distant Bengal; at 18, still a teenager, her mind was made up. She took leave of her own beloved mother and joined the Loreto Order of teaching nuns, her only means in the year 1928 of reaching India. It was an age when missionaries seldom returned home, and she was embarking on a life in a world of which she knew nothing. She was sent to Darjeeling for training. She learned to speak Bengali fluently. After almost 20 happy years as a teaching nun, she audaciously sought (and finally received) permission from the Vatican to become the first nun in the history of the Church to step outside convent walls, not as a lay person, but as a nun with her vows intact, to start a mission of her own. She had no helper, no companion, and no money to speak of. Imagine the Calcutta of 1948, overflowing with refugees after Partition, homelessness, poverty and disease everywhere. She wore no recognisable nun's habit; instead a sari, akin to that worn by municipal sweepresses, that cost one rupee. This is where she started her life's arduous mission.

We know where she left off. By the time she passed away in 1997, she had created her presence in 123 countries. She ran a multinational run by 5,000 nuns of her Order, without the help of government grants or Church assistance. She had been awarded every conceivable prize of distinction. She was as warmly received in palaces and chancelleries as she was in the slums and streets of the world's cities. People sometimes accuse her of converting others to her faith: surely then there was no need for her to set up a branch in the heart of the Vatican. She cajoled Pope John Paul II to carve out a soup kitchen next to his grand audience chamber. Anyone today can witness the queues of Rome's poor, who are fed their only hot meal every evening. A former British Prime Minister told me not long ago that when Mother Teresa visited him at Downing Street she always managed to get his aides overruled, and got everything she wanted — because it was always for ‘her poor.' In any event, by now it was difficult for Prime Ministers to say ‘no' to her, for she was recognised as the conscience-keeper of her age.

As a Hindu, armed only with a certain eclecticism, I found it took me longer than most others to understand that Mother Teresa was with Christ in each conscious hour, whether at Mass, or with each of those whom she tended. The Christ on her crucifix was not different from the one who lay dying at her hospice in Kalighat. There could be no contradiction in her oft-repeated words that one must reach out to one's neighbour.

For Mother Teresa, to love one's neighbour was to love God. This was what was essential to her, not the size of her mission or the power others perceived in her. “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful,” she explained. Mother Teresa exemplified that faith — in prayer, in love, in service, and in peace.

(Navin Chawla, a former Chief Election Commissioner of India, is the author of Mother Teresa: The Authorised Biography.)

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Re-post: if this doesn't warm your heart, you're awful.

 Play of the day! Selfless young fan returns ball to upset boy

There's hope for America's future yet!

In one of the most heartwarming scenes you'll ever see, a young Arizona Diamondbacks fan named Ian made Wednesday's play of the day at Chase Field after an even younger fan named Nicholas missed a ball thrown his way by Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks(notes).

Though the dropped ball was instead handed to Ian by another person, he immediately recognized what he had to do after seeing Nicholas in a distraught state after botching an attempt at a souvenir. With an amazed audience looking on, Ian marched back down the stairs and graciously handed the baseball over to Nicholas, a Brewers fan, without any prodding from anyone else.

As Deadspin notes, "if this doesn't warm your heart, you're awful."

Monday, 18 July 2011

(re-post)- Recurring case of the idiot priest

Recurring case of the idiot priest

 Ordination changes many things about a man theologically, sociologically and emotionally. But there are some things the sacrament will not change. If you ordain an idiot, you wind up with an idiot priest.

Idiot priests, rather than loss of faith, have caused most of the cases I have encountered of people who have left the Catholic Church. Poorly-prepared or totally unprepared homilies are one major element, abuse is another, pastoral insensitivity in times of need is a big third, but by far the most faith-destructive encounters between idiot priests and the People of God occur in connection with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I know a woman whose journey away from Catholicism began as early as her first confession. The priest was nicknamed “Baby Jesus” by the other priests in the parish because “he thinks he’s God almighty.” His haughty disdain for her as a child taught her that God is not worthy of any form of relationship.

According to a news report from Kerala, India, a priest there has been reported to the police for slapping a nine-year-old girl. Her crime? The priest had decided that all the children of the parish must go to confession at least once every three months, and she admitted she had not.

In order to convince the children of the importance of celebrating God’s forgiving love, he allegedly sent one of them, perhaps the only one honest enough to admit to her “dereliction,” to the hospital with a swollen face and a loosened tooth. Besides not having any right to force others to receive the sacrament, he could not see the idiocy in thinking that punishment is the best way to teach the sacrament of forgiveness.

If that girl grows into a woman who avoids the Church, we will be able to accurately date the beginning of her departure to this past July 9.

Why do we over and over again hear from friends, family and the media about priests who drive people away from the Church? Isn’t a priest’s job to draw the sheep to the Good Shepherd?

Part of the problem is one of those sociological effects of ordination combined with idiocy. Most priests merely have status in the Christian community. Some priests enjoy status in the Christian community. If the priest is also an idiot, having status will merely make him more obviously ineffectual; if he enjoys having status, it will make him abusive and repulsive.

Such destructive men often get away with their idiocy because people are smart enough and faith-filled enough to know that our commitment is not to priests but to Christ. Others fear the status that priests have as somehow representing God almighty. So, people have often let priests get away with behavior they would not tolerate in anyone else. But, thanks in part to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, more people are willing to act.

Such a one is the father of that girl in Kerala. He went to the police to report the beating of his child. He acted as a normal parent rather than an idiot.

When idiot priests are allowed to inflict themselves upon the Church with impunity, people either leave the Church or at least distance themselves from it emotionally and socially. That is changing. More and more often, people are speaking up, refusing to be victimized or to leave. They confront the idiocy for the sake of protecting their faith. We need that confrontation. The likelihood of reforming idiot priests is low, but at least we can present ourselves as a Church that is not idiotic.

In one of his own less forgiving moments, the Lord said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

The news report did not mention if the priest in question is practicing holding his breath. It did, however, say that he is preparing to bring his vigorous sacramental pedagogy to the United States. Since the slapping incident has become international news, he will likely have trouble securing a visa to enter that country. He may want to stay away in any case, since his mode of religious education can get him put in jail there, though that may happen in India anyway.

Where the Gospel, common sense and common decency cannot restrain idiot priests, common law must. Of course, the better solution would be to not ordain idiots in the first place, but that would require that we be free of idiot superiors and idiot bishops. But they are simply idiot priests who have “made good.” So, we must rely upon non-idiot clergy and laity to rein in the idiots for the sake of the “little ones” of whatever age.

Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

( re-post) Aseem Chhabra : Terrorism is a constant

Aseem Chhabra Offers a weekly New York perspective on Indian issues
Terrorism is a constant

Our governments have little idea about how to eradicate those who are creating terror

Aseem Chhabra

Last week New York City witnessed a horrible tragedy. An eight-year old Hasidic Jewish boy was supposed to meet his mother in the afternoon, three blocks away from his summer camp, but he failed to show up. The city’s highly insulated, but tightly knit Hasidic community made major efforts to find the boy.

A few days later, a close circuit video led the police to the home of a Jewish man who confessed to killing the young boy, cutting his feet, which he stored in his freezer and then dismembering the rest of the child’s body. Marks on the boy’s arms indicated that he had put up resistance.

Even New York City’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who is used to handling the toughest terrorists and criminals, was visibly moved. “In this business, you see a lot of violence,” Kelly said at a press conference announcing the killer’s arrest. “Here, it defies all logic. That’s what is so disturbing about this case. It’s heartbreaking.”

I have been thinking about the young boy’s parents, what they must have gone through when he failed to show up, when he was supposed to see his mother. And now they will have to live with the tragedy for the rest of their lives.

Last week, there was the horrible news from Mumbai. The three bomb blasts on Tuesday evening left 18 people dead and over hundred injured. The last person to die was a 24-year-old man, who must have been someone’s son, brother, husband or father. It is hard to fathom what this young man’s family must have gone through on Tuesday night trying to locate him and now knowing that he will never come back.

Such thoughts take me back to the harrowing scene in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay when the film’s protagonists, played by Arvind Swamy and Manisha Koirala, search for their twin boys as Mumbai burns in the aftermath of the 1993 riots, and A R Rahman’s hypnotic background score silences their helpless voices. I have never been in a war zone, or witnessed a riot or a bomb explosion, but I always imagine it would be a scenario like the one created by Ratnam.

The night of the bombings there seemed to be a lot of anger that once again Mumbai had been targeted by terrorists.

Later, journalist Naresh Fernandes suggested in his thoughtful piece on The New Yorker’s website that a certain amount of cynicism had crept into the soul of Mumbai. But I would like to believe that many Mumbaikars still care for and feel the pain of those who have lost their loved ones.

We live in very difficult times. Death and destruction is in the news at all times from troubled spots in the world — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq — and from within India (Kashmir, the North East or recently in Forbesganj, Bihar). Each time a person — man, woman and child dies — many family members mourn that death. Each of the 3,000 plus people, who died when Al Qaeda’s terrorists crashed their two planes in the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, left behind survivors and layers of heartbreaking stories.

What is more troubling is that our governments have little idea about how to eradicate organizations and individuals who are hell bent on destruction, revenge and creating terror. Ten years and trillions of dollars later, the US claims it is winning the war against terror, especially after Osama Bin Laden’s death, but I believe terrorism is not going to end, and will be a way of life for us for decades into the future.

The day after the gruesome discovery of the young Hasidic boy’s death in Brooklyn, I was chatting with a friend on Twitter who has a young son. He had been following the case of the missing boy and was shaken up by the news. I suggested to him that he should go give his son an extra hug that night. We should feel blessed that we have our loved ones with us. For there are many whose family members will never come back home again.

Friday, 27 May 2011

interesting ad campaigns from canada ( part-3): Catholic Church of Quebec-Annual Collection

( this post is updated on 15 june 2016, to include the 2016 ad campagin from Montreal dioease) 

Toujours ma paroisse :) Campagne de financement des paroisses

( intelligent use of émoticône / Emoticone :)


interesting ad campaigns from canada ( part-2): Catholic Church of Montreal-Annual Collection ads


( talking the facebook language!)

Love: it's the key message of the biggest social network in the world, the one-billion-member Catholic Church. And that's what the Archdiocese of Montreal is inviting everyone to do with its 2011 annual campaign.


In a campaign wink to Montrealers, the diocese put up a large billboard along the southbound lanes of the Turcot Interchange. The French-language sign, leading up to the Champlain Bridge, reads: "Say a prayer".

Local media have reported the precarious state of the bridge, which is currently undergoing major repairs to ensure its safety.

However, Lucie Martineau, diocesan communications director, did stress that bridge authorities have assured that there is no danger of sudden or imminent collapse.

"It's just a little humour to catch people's attention," said Martineau. "And to help them think of God, even if it's just for a second." 


2006: XVIIIe  Collecte annuelle de l’Église catholique de Montréal

( this ad shocked the Canadian French population!)

Le concept (francophone) de cette année en surprendra plusieurs. Il s’agit de rappeler la définition réelle de trois mots : Hostie, Ciboire et Tabernacle. Nous croyons que ce concept publicitaire, en plus d’attirer l’attention, est en complet accord avec la mission catéchétique de l’Église. Il faut parfois savoir oser pour interpeller les adultes qui ont oublié et les plus jeunes pour qui ces mots n’ont peut-être jamais eu de véritable sens. 

history :

interesting ad campaigns from canada : "Don't be that guy"

"Don't be that guy" is a bold sexual assault awareness campaign- ( launched on November 22, 2010)   targeting potential offenders (and not potential victims)  by SAVE - Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton. 

Pope 'shuts down irregular monastery in Rome'

famous monastery in Rome, Italian media reports say.

The Santa Croce in Gerusalemme church is being closed because of rumours of a lack of liturgical, financial and moral discipline, La Stampa reports.

It is understood the few remaining Cistercian monks will be transferred to other communities in Italy.

The basilica's abbot, a flamboyant former Milan fashion designer, was moved two years ago.

Il Messaggero reports that Simone Fioraso transformed the church, renovating its crumbling interior and opening a hotel, holding regular concerts, a televised bible-reading marathon and regularly attracting celebrity visitors with an unconventional approach.

One of the nuns at the monastery, Anna Nobili, a former lap-dancer, reportedly took part in dance performances with other nuns during religious ceremonies.

But the Vatican was reportedly not pleased by rumours that circulated about the behaviour of the monks.

"An inquiry found evidence of liturgical and financial irregularities as well as lifestyles that were probably not in keeping with that of a monk," Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, is reported as telling the Guardian newspaper.

An inquiry was carried out by the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life but has not yet been made public, La Stampa reports.

Santa Croce is one of Rome's oldest and most prestigious churches, and was built around a chapel dating back to the 4th Century.

It is one of the Italian capital's key places of pilgrimage as it is believed to house holy relics.

 'Lap-dancing nun' performs for Church'

Jesus is a God who dances, not one who stands still 

Anna Nobili is no ordinary nun.

The 38-year-old used to be a lap-dancer, and spent many years working in Italian nightclubs.

She is now using her talents in a rather different way - for what she calls "The Holy Dance" in a performance on Tuesday evening at the Holy Cross in Jerusalem Basilica in Rome, in front of senior Catholic clerics including Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican's Cultural Department.

Miss Nobili told the BBC World Service that the transformation from podium lap dancer to nun happened gradually.

"It was my mother who went about getting me involved in the faith - she had a powerful vision of Jesus," she says.

"At first I didn't want to know, but then Jesus appeared to me too, and I fell in love with him."
Jesus is a God who dances, not one who stands still

Sister Anna Nobili

Several years ago, she swapped her old life for the Church, after a visit to the shrine of St Francis in Assisi, a place of pilgrimage for millions of Catholics in Umbria.

Sister Nobili, then joined the order of nuns called the Working Lady Nuns of Nazareth House, and it is through them that she tours prisons and hospitals performing her modern Christian dance.

She says the Church is very open to what she does.

Sister Nobili says her dancing has changed since her lap-dancing days

"They understand that our hearts belong to Jesus, that means our moves also show that he is alive, and that he is a God of joy, not one of sadness," she explains.

"He is a God who dances not one who stands still."

Sister Nobili adds that it is for these reasons she has noticed that bishops, and priests in general, are struck by this new form of expression.

She does use some of her past life in her new shows, telling young people in the audience the story of how she converted.

Referring to the actual dancing she does today, with her group, the Jesus Dancers, Sister Nobili says it is different from what she did for her nightclub shows.

"My body has changed, so the way I dance has changed too." 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Re-post: Stephen Hawking: 'There is no heaven; it's a fairy story'

repost from

Hawking says there is no heaven.., but i am sure the hell exists!!! :)

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the cosmologist shares his thoughts on death, M-theory, human purpose and our chance existence 

A belief that heaven or an afterlife awaits us is a "fairy story" for people afraid of death, Stephen Hawking has said.

In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religious comforts, Britain's most eminent scientist said there was nothing beyond the moment when the brain flickers for the final time.

Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, shares his thoughts on death, human purpose and our chance existence in an exclusive interview with the Guardian today.

The incurable illness was expected to kill Hawking within a few years of its symptoms arising, an outlook that turned the young scientist to Wagner, but ultimately led him to enjoy life more, he has said, despite the cloud hanging over his future.

"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said.

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he added.

Hawking's latest comments go beyond those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he asserted that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. The book provoked a backlash from some religious leaders, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who accused Hawking of committing an "elementary fallacy" of logic.

The 69-year-old physicist fell seriously ill after a lecture tour in the US in 2009 and was taken to Addenbrookes hospital in an episode that sparked grave concerns for his health. He has since returned to his Cambridge department as director of research.

The physicist's remarks draw a stark line between the use of God as a metaphor and the belief in an omniscient creator whose hands guide the workings of the cosmos.

In his bestselling 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking drew on the device so beloved of Einstein, when he described what it would mean for scientists to develop a "theory of everything" – a set of equations that described every particle and force in the entire universe. "It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God," he wrote.

The book sold a reported 9 million copies and propelled the physicist to instant stardom. His fame has led to guest roles in The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Red Dwarf. One of his greatest achievements in physics is a theory that describes how black holes emit radiation.

In the interview, Hawking rejected the notion of life beyond death and emphasised the need to fulfil our potential on Earth by making good use of our lives. In answer to a question on how we should live, he said, simply: "We should seek the greatest value of our action."

In answering another, he wrote of the beauty of science, such as the exquisite double helix of DNA in biology, or the fundamental equations of physics.

Hawking responded to questions posed by the Guardian and a reader in advance of a lecture tomorrow at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London, in which he will address the question: "Why are we here?"

In the talk, he will argue that tiny quantum fluctuations in the very early universe became the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately human life emerged. "Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in," he said.

Hawking suggests that with modern space-based instruments, such as the European Space Agency's Planck mission, it may be possible to spot ancient fingerprints in the light left over from the earliest moments of the universe and work out how our own place in space came to be.

His talk will focus on M-theory, a broad mathematical framework that encompasses string theory, which is regarded by many physicists as the best hope yet of developing a theory of everything.

M-theory demands a universe with 11 dimensions, including a dimension of time and the three familiar spatial dimensions. The rest are curled up too small for us to see.

Evidence in support of M-theory might also come from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva.

One possibility predicted by M-theory is supersymmetry, an idea that says fundamental particles have heavy – and as yet undiscovered – twins, with curious names such as selectrons and squarks.

Confirmation of supersymmetry would be a shot in the arm for M-theory and help physicists explain how each force at work in the universe arose from one super-force at the dawn of time.

Another potential discovery at the LHC, that of the elusive Higgs boson, which is thought to give mass to elementary particles, might be less welcome to Hawking, who has a long-standing bet that the long-sought entity will never be found at the laboratory.

Hawking will join other speakers at the London event, including the chancellor, George Osborne, and the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Science, truth and beauty: Hawking's answers

What is the value in knowing "Why are we here?"

The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can't solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.

You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?

Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.

So here we are. What should we do?

We should seek the greatest value of our action.

You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

What are the things you find most beautiful in science?

Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics." 


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Re-post: Indian MP Tharoor: Europe must stop lecturing India

While relations between India and China or India and the US have their moments of tension, nothing divides the country and Europe, except when Europe tries to give too much advice on domestic issues, said Shashi Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary general and a member of the Indian parliament, in an in interview with EurActiv.

Shashi Tharoor is a prominet member of the Lok Sabha, India's parliament. He has served as Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and has been Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs.

He was speaking to EurActiv Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.

In your book 'The Elephant, the tiger and the cell phone', about the changing face of India, you said that the country's ability to manage diversity has resulted in a rise in its soft power internationally. What's your perception of Europe's proverbial soft power, particularly after the intervention in Libya?

It is absolutely clear that Europe represents itself a model of 'soft power' because it is a region of the world that attracts people for its culture, its history, its architecture, its cuisine.

Since you are not representing a menace for anyone you have a distinctive soft power. But sometimes people criticise you for being the example of soft power without hard power.

For example, in India we have always believed that to counter the threats we face at our immediate borders, or to face terrorism, you need a combination of soft and hard power, which in Europe you are starting to lose, as you are reducing your defence budgets.

Now, the intervention in Libya suggests that you are capable of using your military muscle to defend the values you promote with your soft power.

The problem here is that some might think that Europe is turning again towards colonialism and imperialism, which the world was starting to forget.

So there is a risk in the choices you have made.

India and the EU are currently negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). What will that change for India?

Trade between our countries will become more significant. For the moment, it is clear that the two most important trade partners for India are the US and China. And I believe that China is overtaking the US, if you exclude trade in services.

I believe the moment has come to enter this market; it is a very important market due to its size but also because its consumption capacity is growing annually. So for Europe this is important, and for us I believe that the diversification of our sources of imports is very useful.

A good thing with Europe is that nothing divides us. That is not the case with China, where we are in sort of strategic rivalry.

There are no complications with the USA, even if it behaves like a superpower and we sometimes have difficulties with some of its actions.

With Europe, we do not really have major difficulties. Sometimes Europe has a tendency to give too much advice on things that are domestic affairs, which is something we do not always appreciate. I believe that if we treat each other with the respect that is necessary for sovereign countries, we will have no problem in developing a real strategic partnership. But we will start with trade, because that is the easiest starting point.

But the deal could possibly be blocked by the European Parliament as the FTA lacks any mention of labour rights, in the fields of child labour or collective bargaining, for example. Is any dialogue taking place at parliamentary level between the Lok Sabha and the European Parliament?

We have bilateral parliamentary dialogue and this question has never been raised by Europeans.

Secondly, we should not forget that child labour is illegal in India. The parliament does not accept child labour, and civil society organisations do lead a constant fight against child labour.

We do not pretend that it does not exist in India. Unfortunately, because of poverty families send their kids to work. If the police finds out about cases of abuse, the children are sent to school. Unfortunately, it is the economic reality that leads to such cases.

Europe has to understand that we in India are very proud people and we do not accept that on problems that we are trying to solve ourselves, foreign powers or treaties try to impose one rule or the other.

For example, human rights. We are very proud to say that violations of human rights are mostly exposed, even in Kashmir, by either civil society, the media or public administration.

India is a country that likes to solve its own problems. Because of our colonial past, we don't like it when someone from outside India comes to gives us lessons.

I am convinced that if Europe were to insist on imposing conditionality of such a sort on the FTA, then India would refuse to cooperate.

You can't forget history, you can't forget that for 200 years others have led India's business and politics, and it is much more important for us to insist on our own rights than to strike an FTA. As simple as that.

Let's go back to the problem of poverty, which is still unresolved in India, and so is that of social inequality. Indian voters may well again sanction those in power at the ballot box in upcoming elections. What solutions can be found for the problem of poverty in India?

Democracy in itself is a solution because when one is unhappy, he/she can always seize power through votes rather than Kalashnikovs.

The big problem [in these elections] is with the Maoists, who are active especially in some central and eastern central states, [but who] will not succeed in really changing their destiny, because the reaction of the federal state would be to suppress any violent action that they would undertake.

Elsewhere, people have 50 years' experience of Indian democracy. Those who have tried to change the social and political order by calling on people to vote for them always have the possibility to win.

Of course this is the magic aspect of democracy: next time they may lose, and yesterday's secessionists then become today's prime ministers. Thanks to democracy, next month or next year they may become opposition leaders. That is how it works.

Democracy represents a solution and obviously there is also development. In this domain, there are several ways to see things.

You spoke of social inequalities and in a way that is not correct. In fact, liberalisation is pursued by all political parties in India – there are three different political trends that are represented within the Indian government: the Indian National Congress, the BJP, and the third political camp includes the Socialist Party and the Communist Party – all have followed the same policy of liberalisation and economic opening up.

It is through this policy that we sustain a growth rate of 8% per year and that we manage to pull 1% of our population out of poverty every year.

This is not much, true, yet 10 million people have managed to escape poverty this way. That explains why despite the fact that the population continues to grow, hitting 1.21 billion people, GDP per capita has also grown from year to year.

So we are lifting people out of poverty but maybe too slowly. Although it is true that rich people are growing richer, I would not say that the poor are becoming poorer.

As India's neighbour, Pakistan, is in the grip of secessionists, what guarantee of stability can India give to the international community and in particular, the European Union?

The strategic partnership comprises two aspects: there are regional responsibilities as India is the largest country of South-East Asia, it represents 80% of the economy and 70% of the population among the seven countries, or rather eight, as Afghanistan has joined the regional association of the countries of South-East Asia.

India can play a very important role here and is beginning to do so. For instance, India offers asymmetrical benefits. That means that we do not demand reciprocity when we make trade concessions and offer relationships with other countries. And this is quite rare in international relations.

The second issue lies with the so-called global partnership. There are several questions on which one can share a strategic opinion with the EU, one of which is human rights – although with some caveats, as India is never very favourable towards military intervention, which is why we abstained at the UN Security Council over Libya.

Apart from human rights, there is also the environment, there are matters of global commons, like the Internet, cyberspace and cybercrime. We have a certain know-how and potential in this area, which is becoming ever more important in the 21st Century.

If you think about how to manage that in a globalising world, where we are all more linked than we used to be, I believe that India has the capacity and the will to act, which I believe is important for Europe.

India prefers assured independence and is not planning any fixed, long-term partnerships with other states…

A little like the France gaulliste! India is a democracy and is proud of that, but it does not consider it a must to join NATO or accept all the other decisions that Western democracies take.

We have our history, we were colonised, we have all the memories of 200 years of history that are very different from those of a Western democracy. And for us, democracy is a means to deal with internal affairs, but regarding our international position one must not forget our colonial history and consider our solidarity with third-world countries on matters of development.

Also, we should not forget our moral, spiritual and political values and the importance of preserving our country's diversity in the world. For instance, in this famous battle of civilisations, we are a country in which all civilisations coexist, all religions coexist.

Now we have a woman as our president, a prime minister who is Sikh, a Muslim vice-president. The party leader of the governing party is a Catholic of Italian origin and 80% of the country is Hindu. So we have all that, and we manage this diversity in a friendly manner, but we also offer the possibility to change things through the ballot box.

Could India teach Europe about managing diversity, as the 27-country bloc struggles to exist as a political entity?

The European experience varies from country to country. In France, for example, you have a large minority that is not of French origin and cannot recongnise itself in 'our ancestors, the Gauls'. France is surely much less religious than other countries. But I also notice reactions to that in Europe. In Switzerland there has been the referendum against minarets, in Germany there have been local protests against mosques.

In India, on the other hand, we tend to say that you can be who you want to be, behave as you choose, dress as you wish, wear external symbols of your faith, it is your choice. But you will have to coexist with others who also wear such symbols. And if you accept this principle for everyone, then you can see burqas in the streets, turbans and Western garb, you can see all of this in the streets of any Indian town.

Do you think Indians see Europe as a political entity?

We have relations with the member states of the EU and we tend to think that it is more useful to speak to Prime Minister Cameron or President Sarkozy – both of them came to visit three times over the course of the past four, five weeks – rather than speaking to Baroness Ashton who takes care of European diplomacy.

There are EU countries with whom we have real diplomatic relations that go back a long time in history. Because the European institutions do not have the same weight, we will of course prefer to deal with the governments.

Perhaps within a few decades, or a hundred years, we could imagine a Europe that would be more like India. Because the real comparison should be made between Europe and India, these are nations with diverse languages, different appearances, different customs and cuisines, and all of that coexists in the same geographical and economic space. India is essentially like that.

We speak of an Indian nation, but strictly speaking and in the Marxist sense of the term, this is a country, a nation that comprises several nations. And I think that we have had the great chance to create a single country from roughly 25 different peoples, from an ethnical, cultural and linguistic point of view. And Europe is trying to do that, but obviously, the process will be a little slower. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Re-post: « Nos corps cachent un mystère » : le pape évoque la théologie du corps

Audience à l’Institut pontifical Jean-Paul II pour les études sur le mariage et la famille

ROME, Vendredi 13 mai 2011 ( - « Nos corps cachent un mystère », a affirmé Benoît XVI en recevant ce vendredi au Vatican les participants à la rencontre organisée par l'Institut pontifical Jean-Paul II pour les études sur le mariage et la famille. Le corps n'est pas une matière « inerte, lourde » mais il parle « le langage de l'amour véritable », a-t-il ajouté en rappelant que c'est dans la famille que le langage du corps est préservé.

L'Institut Jean-Paul II a été voulu par le nouveau bienheureux il y a 30 ans exactement, « persuadé de l'importance décisive de la famille pour l'Eglise et la société ». « Il vous a confié, pour l'étude, la recherche et la diffusion, ses ‘Catéchèses sur l'amour humain' qui contiennent une profonde réflexion sur le corps humain », a rappelé Benoît XVI.

Dans son discours, le pape a rappelé que l'esprit habitait le corps. « Nos corps cachent un mystère. En eux, l'esprit se manifeste et travaille. Loin de s'opposer à l'esprit, le corps est le lieu où l'esprit peut habiter. A la lumière de cela, il est possible de comprendre que nos corps ne sont pas une matière inerte, lourde, mais parlent, si nous savons écouter, le langage de l'amour véritable ».

« Le corps, en nous révélant l'Origine, porte en soi une signification filiale, parce qu'il nous rappelle notre génération qui, à travers nos parents qui nous ont transmis la vie, tient de Dieu créateur », a ajouté Benoît XVI. « Ce n'est que quand il reconnaît l'amour originaire qui lui a donné la vie que l'homme peut s'accepter lui-même, peut se réconcilier avec la nature et avec le monde ».

« La chair, reçue de Dieu, est appelée à rendre possible l'union d'amour entre l'homme et la femme et à transmettre la vie », a encore affirmé Benoît XVI qui explique qu'avant la Chute, les corps d'Adam et Eve étaient « en parfaite harmonie ». « Il y a en eux un langage qu'ils n'ont pas créé, un eros enraciné dans leur nature, qui les invite à se recevoir mutuellement du Créateur, pour pouvoir ainsi se donner. Nous comprenons alors que dans l'amour, l'homme est ‘recréé' ».

« La véritable fascination de la sexualité naît de la grandeur de cet horizon qui s'épanouit : la beauté intégrale, l'univers de l'autre personne et du ‘nous' qui naît dans l'union, la promesse de communion qui s'y cache, la fécondité nouvelle, le chemin que l'amour ouvre vers Dieu, source de l'amour », a poursuivi Benoît XVI. « L'union en une seule chair se fait alors union de toute la vie, jusqu'à ce que l'homme et la femme deviennent aussi un seul esprit. S'ouvre alors un chemin où le corps nous enseigne la valeur du temps, de la lente maturation dans l'amour ».

C'est pourquoi, explique encore le pape, « la vertu de la chasteté reçoit un sens nouveau ». « Elle n'est pas un ‘non' aux plaisirs et à la joie de la vie, mais un grand ‘oui' à l'amour comme communication profonde entre les personnes, qui demande du temps et du respect, comme un chemin ensemble vers la plénitude et comme un amour qui devient capable d'engendrer la vie et d'accueillir généreusement la vie nouvelle qui naît.

La famille : le lieu où s'entremêlent la théologie du corps et celle de l'amour

Benoît XVI souligne aussi le « langage négatif » que contient le corps, fruit du péché : « il nous parle de l'oppression de l'autre, du désir de posséder et d'exploiter ».

« Toutefois, nous savons que ce langage n'appartient pas au dessein originaire de Dieu mais qu'il est le fruit du péché. Quand on le détache de son sens filial, de sa connexion avec le créateur, le corps se rebelle contre l'homme, perd sa capacité de faire transparaître la communion et devient un terrain d'appropriation de l'autre ».

« N'est-ce pas peut-être cela, le drame de la sexualité - s'est interrogé le pape - qui reste aujourd'hui enfermée dans le cercle restreint du corps et de l'émotivité, mais qui ne peut en réalité que s'accomplir dans l'appel à quelque chose de plus grand ? ».

Benoît XVI a enfin rappelé que le langage du corps était « préservé dans la famille ». « La famille, voilà le lieu où la théologie du corps et la théologie de l'amour s'entremêlent. C'est ici que l'on apprend la bonté du corps, son témoignage d'une origine bonne, dans l'expérience de l'amour que nous recevons des parents ».

« C'est ici que se vit le don de soi en une seule chair, dans la charité conjugale qui relie les époux », a-t-il conclu. « C'est dans la famille que l'homme se découvre en relation, non comme un individu autonome qui s'auto-réalise mais comme enfant, époux, parent dont l'identité se fonde dans l'être appelé à l'amour, à se recevoir des autres et à se donner aux autres ».

« Le corps est l'endroit où l’esprit peut habiter »

« C’est seulement quand il reconnait l’amour originel qui lui a donné la vie, que l’homme peut s’accepter lui-même », se réconcilier avec « la nature et avec le monde ». Telle est la réflexion offerte vendredi matin par Benoît XVI en rencontrant les membres de l’Institut Pontifical Jean Paul II pour les études sur le mariage et la famille. Au cours de l’audience, le Pape a dit que « la force du péché ne parvient pas effacer le langage originel du corps », qui « porte en lui une signification filiale ». « La vraie fascination de la sexualité » trouve donc sa racine dans « l’univers de l’autre personne et du ‘nous ‘ qui nait dans l’union », dans « la voie que l’amour ouvre vers Dieu ». On comprend mieux, dans cette optique que « la vertu de la chasteté » ne représente pas un « non aux plaisirs et à la joie de la vie », mais un « oui à l’amour comme communication profonde entre les personnes, qui exige temps et respect ». Sans cacher « le langage négatif » du corps, celui qui parle « d’oppression de l’autre, du désir de posséder et exploiter », le Pape a rappelé que « Dieu offre à l’homme une voie de salut du corps, dont le langage est préservé dans la famille ». C’est en effet là que l’ « on apprend la bonté du corps », que « l’on vit le don de soi en une seule chaire », que l’on « expérimente la fécondité de l’amour, et que la vie se mêle à celle d’autres générations ».«-le-corps-est-lendroit-ou-l’esprit-peut-habiter-».html#

Monday, 25 April 2011

( re-post): Generational Differences Between India and the U.S.

 Tammy Erickson: Generational Differences Between India and the U.S.

  Saturday February 28, 2009 |

I'm often asked if generations share common characteristics around the globe. The answer: to some extent, particularly among younger generations whose members were exposed to many of the same events through cable television and the Internet. But among older generations, the shared elements are much less significant and the national characteristics of the generations become increasingly unique.

By definition, a generation is a group a people who, based on their age, share not only a chronological location in history but also the experiences that accompany it. These common experiences, in turn, prompt the formation of shared beliefs and behaviors. Of course, the commonalities are far from the whole story. Even those of you who grew up in the same country also had unique teen experiences, based on your family's socioeconomic background, your parents' philosophies, and a host of other factors. But the prominent events you share - particularly during formative teen years - are what give your generation its defining characteristics.

Let me briefly compare some of the formative experiences - and resulting generational traits - of individuals growing up in the United States and India. I'm hoping you'll join the discussion to share your experiences.

Traditionalists - Born from 1928 to 1945

Traditionalists were teens in the 1940's and 1950's. In the United States, these teens experienced a booming post-War economy - rapid growth of suburbs, increased availability of consumer goods, and a boom in white collar jobs. It would be logical for any teen growing up in this atmosphere of budding opportunity to be excited about the possibilities of joining in. Traditionalists in the U.S. tend to be loyal to institutions and accepting of hierarchy and rules. For many, financial success is an important metric of achievement.

In India, the 1940's and 1950's saw the birth of India as an independent nation. Teens would have witnessed Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent, civil disobedient campaign for independence, the end of the British Raj, and Gandhi's assassination. Like the U.S., this was a time of patriotic pride, with the resurgence in Indian traditions and the establishment of a democratic republic with elections. But the living conditions in India at the time were difficult - a poor economy, short life expectancies, low rates of literacy, mass impoverishment, stalled industrial development, and destitute farmers. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 (also called the First Kashmir War) marked the beginning of a long border conflict.

For individuals in this generation in India, patriotic pride over newly established independent nation blended with loyalty to family and community. The concept of boundaries was an important element of an individual's mental model - boundaries of new states, local sects/groups, and the individual. Success was defined as obedience to traditional practices, while finding ways to participate in this new India.

Boomers - Born from 1946 to 1960/1964

Teens in the 1960's and 1970's, Boomers in the United States were heavily influenced by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, widespread protests, the assassinations of Kennedy, King, and other idealistic leaders, and, toward the end of their teen years, Watergate and Nixon's resignation. Most emerged from this era suspicious of authority and idealistic about their role in the world. In addition, Boomers grew up competing for the limited number of seats available to their rapidly expanded cohort. From this, they internalized the message that life would be a perpetual game of musical chairs - Boomers are fundamentally competitive because they grew up in a world in which zero sum rules apply.

India, during these same years, shifted to a socialist economic model under Indira Gandhi's leadership: nationalization of industries, public works, social reforms, and public investment in education. Political factions grew and the Indian national Congress split into two: Old and New Congress. India signed a 20-year treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union; its first break from non-alignment. Wars around borders continued: Sino-Indian War, Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 (Second Kashmir War), and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (independence of Bangladesh). The rupee was liberalized and underwent severe devaluation. A "Green Revolution" improved agricultural productivity enabling India to feed its population self-sufficiently after two decades of food imports. Toward the end of the period, during the Indian Emergency of 1975-77, Gandhi is accused of corruption, rules by decree, suspends elections and civil liberties, and is removed from power by the opposition.

For teens in India at this time, economic options were limited by the sluggish economy; personal options are heavily influenced by the family, group, or caste into which one was born. For those who are able, success is linked with getting out of India to obtain higher education and work in the U.K. or U.S. Similar to U.S. teens' experience with Watergate, the Indian Emergency left this generation with skepticism of political leaders.

Generation X - Born from 1961/1965 to 1979

Generation X teens in the United States during the 1980's and 1990's lived through a period of extraordinary social change. The economy was poor and many saw important adults in their lives laid off from jobs where they had planned to spend their entire career. They were influenced by the Challenger disaster - the space shuttle that blew up shortly after takeoff, women entering the workforce, rising divorce rates, and the growth of electronic games and of the Internet. The first generation of "latch key kids," X'ers internalized the possibility that many of the institutions in their lives - whether marriage or corporate employment - could disappear. As a result, it is logical that self-reliance became an important life value - a desire to keep multiple options open if something bad were to happen. X'ers are generally mistrustful of institutions, loyal to their friends, and dedicated to being good parents.

Teens in India saw Indira Gandhi killed by her bodyguards and succeeded by her son Rajiv Gandhi, who instituted a number of important reforms: loosened business regulations, lower restrictions on foreign investment/imports, and reduced bureaucracy. Rajiv also led the country into a major expansion of the telecommunications industry, space program, software industry and information technology sector. Political conflict continued: Rajiv Gandhi's image as honest politician was shattered by the Bofors scandal and he was later killed by suicide bomber. P.V. Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister and initiated further economic liberalization and reform. Still, over 75% of 1980s Indian Institutes of Technology graduates emigrated to the United States.

Members of Gen X in India developed a mental model patterned on a rich, vibrant democracy - comfortable with many views, perspectives, and voices. The constraints of the caste system were giving way to the power of education, which was increasingly available for the best and brightest. Although success continues be associated with moving outside the country, economic opportunity is growing within India. Diaspora not only take care of and retain close ties with those in India, but are beginning to make investments in the country's economic future.

Generation Y - Born from 1980 to 1995

Globally, Generation Ys' immersion in personal technology enabled this generation to experience many of the same events and, as a result, develop as the most globally similar generation yet. Acts of terrorism and school violence were among this generation's most significant shared formative events. The random nature of terrorism - in which inexplicable things happen unexpectedly to anyone at any time - left many Y's with the view that it is logical to live life fully now. Around the world, this generation has a sense of immediacy that is often misinterpreted by older co-workers as impatience.

In the U.S., Y's teen years were marked by an unprecedented bull market and a strong pro-child culture. As a result, they are optimistic, goal-oriented, and very family-centric.

In India, the late 1990's and 2000's saw the development of a large middle-class and increased demand for and production of many consumer goods - in many ways, a situation reminiscent of the U.S. Traditionalists' experience with a rapidly expanding pie. The Indian economy grew under liberalization and reform policies, the country was stable and prosperous, and political power changed hands without incident. India became a prestigious educational powerhouse and respected source of IT talent. By 2008, 34 Indian companies were listed in Forbes Global 2000 ranking.

Y's in India share the generation's global sense of immediacy, coupled with the excitement of being part of the country's first wave of broad economic opportunity. As a result, young employees in India tend to share the rapid tempo of U.S. Y's ambitions, but with a greater emphasis on financial reward as a desired outcome. They have come of age in an exciting, dynamic country with significant economic opportunity. Most are entrepreneurial and business savvy, as well as technologically capable and connected. Their mental model is heavily influenced by India's rich, complex democracy - they easily accept diversity of opinion - as well as by the Western heritage of laws and customs left from the old days of British rule, making them strongly suited for global interaction.

So, bottom line: some common traits, particularly among Generation Y, and many differences, certainly in older generations. If you find this discussion helpful, I'll share my research on generations in other countries in future posts.

And I'd love to hear from you - particularly if you grew up in India. What events were most memorable and influential during your teen years?

* * *

Finally, I'm very excited to share with you that Harvard's Corporate Learning group has developed a terrific online program based on my work: "Leading Across the Ages." In this difficult economy, it's a great way to share insights broadly within your organization - to reduce intergenerational tensions, strengthen relationships among your colleagues, and increase productivity and the likelihood of innovation. I hope you'll check it out!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Internet role in Egypt's protests

Internet role in Egypt's protests

9 February 2011 Last updated at 01:00 ET

By Anne Alexander
University of Cambridge

A few days after the fall of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a Jordanian newspaper printed a joke apparently doing the rounds in Egypt: "Why do the Tunisian youth 'demonstrate' in the streets, don't they have Facebook?"

Only six days later, protests across Egypt co-ordinated by a loose coalition of opposition groups - many of which are very largely organised through Facebook - seemed to prove this cynicism wrong.

Certainly, the Egyptian government reacted quickly: blocking social media sites and mobile phone networks before pulling the plug on Egypt's access to the internet.

This act of censorship was spectacularly unsuccessful.

Friday 28 January saw literally millions take control of the streets in an epic "Day of Rage". Nor did the blackout cut off news of the demonstrations and stop protesters communicating with each other.

Protest leaders had already agreed to call for demonstrations starting from key mosques, and marchers rallied at Friday prayers before heading for the city centres and key government buildings.

Satellite channels - particularly al-Jazeera - broadcast live coverage all day, constantly updated by telephone reports filed from landlines by its network of correspondents across Egypt.
Broad spectrum

The events of 28 January are particularly important, because they contain crucial clues to understanding the broader relationship between the media - both "new" and "old" - and the mass movement for change which has developed in Egypt over the past few weeks.

Firstly, the fact that an internet and mobile phone blockade failed shows clearly that this movement is not based on the web. In fact, the movement which erupted on 25 January has brought together many groups who have taken to the streets over the past 10 years.

They are varied socially and politically, ranging from workers to bloggers and democracy campaigners, to senior judges, to members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic Christians.

This is the first time they have all demonstrated together, and the first time they have been joined by millions of their fellow citizens. But it is important to understand that this movement builds on a legacy of protest by many different activist networks, most of which are not primarily organised online.

Secondly, it is clear that the protesters use a range of different media to communicate with each other and to get their message across.

I was in Tahrir Square on Sunday: everywhere you look there are mobile phones, hand-written placards, messages picked out in stones and plastic tea cups, graffiti, newspapers and leaflets, not to mention al-Jazeera's TV cameras which broadcast hours of live footage from the square everyday. When one channel of communication is blocked, people try another.

Every mass movement needs spaces where political alternatives can be debated and organisation can take place.

In the 1940s, the last time that Egypt saw mass protests on a similar scale, radical bookshops, underground newspapers and illegal trade union meetings played this role.

For the current generation some of these spaces have been online.

I asked Ahmed, a socialist activist in Tahrir Square, what role he thought the internet was playing in mobilising protest.

"Online organising is very important because activists have been able to discuss and take decisions without having to organise a meeting which could be broken up by the police," he said.
'Offline' political action

Online networks are only relatively "safer" from repression: Khaled Said was dragged out of an internet cafe and beaten to death by policemen last summer.

The Egyptian security forces reportedly recently set up a special unit to monitor internet activists.

But in Egypt today, there are vast numbers of people online, making it far more difficult for the state to track them all.

Even in poor urban and rural areas people can access the internet through shared connections.

The Facebook group set up to protest at Khaled Said's death is "liked" by nearly 600,000 people and was a key organising centre for the current protests.

Mobile phone use has grown exponentially in the past few years, reaching around 80% of the population according to recent figures.

Now footage of protests and police repression filmed on mobile phone cameras is being broadcast back to millions of Egyptians by the satellite channels.

Online organising does not automatically bring people onto the streets. In 2008, a Facebook group calling for a general strike attracted tens of thousands of members but only relatively small street protests took place in Cairo, largely on the university campuses.

Ahmed believes that Egyptian activists have developed sophisticated ways of knowing when online protest will generate offline political action.

"People learn quickly. They look at who is calling for a protest, and if it is someone they know and trust they are much more likely to take part."

They also learn by example. The fall of Mr Ben Ali showed people across the Arab world, and not just political activists, that popular protests could bring down a dictator.

It is that hope, and not the internet, which is driving this movement forward.

Anne Alexander is a Buckley Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge

Monday, 7 February 2011

What the Bible Really Says About Sex

New scholarship on the Good Book’s naughty bits and how it deals with adultery, divorce, and same-sex love.

More Ways Than Two

The poem describes two young lovers aching with desire. The obsession is mutual, carnal, complete. The man lingers over his lover’s eyes and hair, on her teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts, until he arrives at “the mount of myrrh.” He rhapsodizes. “All of you is beautiful, my love,” he says. “There is no flaw in you.”

The girl returns his lust with lust. “My lover thrust his hand through the hole,” she says, “and my insides groaned because of him.”

This ode to sexual consummation can be found in—of all places—the Bible. It is the Song of Solomon, a poem whose origins likely reach back to the pagan love songs of Egypt more than 1,200 years before the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters have endeavored through the millennia to temper its heat by arguing that it means more than it appears to mean. It’s about God’s love for Israel, they have said; or, it’s about Jesus’ love for the church. But whatever other layers it may contain, the Song is on its face an ancient piece of erotica, a celebration of the fulfillment of sexual desire.

What does the Bible really say about sex? Two new books written by university scholars for a popular audience try to answer this question. Infuriated by the dominance in the public sphere of conservative Christians who insist that the Bible incontrovertibly supports sex within the constraints of “traditional marriage,” these authors attempt to prove otherwise. Jennifer Wright Knust and Michael Coogan mine the Bible for its earthiest and most inexplicable tales about sex—Jephthah, who sacrifices his virgin daughter to God; Naomi and Ruth, who vow to love one another until death—to show that the Bible’s teachings on sex are not as coherent as the religious right would have people believe. In Knust’s reading, the Song of Solomon is a paean to unmarried sex, outside the conventions of family and community. “I’m tired,” writes Knust in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, “of watching those who are supposed to care about the Bible reduce its stories and teachings to slogans.” Her book comes out this month. Coogan’s book God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says was released last fall.

Conservative critics say that coherence is precisely what the Bible offers on sex. Reading it in the context of the Christian tradition, and with an awareness that the text is “divinely inspired”—that is, given to people directly by God—a believer can come to only one conclusion on questions of sex and marriage. “Sexual intimacy outside of a public, lifelong commitment between a man and woman is not in accordance with God’s creating or redeeming purposes,” explains Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Liberals may wish the Bible were more permissive on sex, conservative religious scholars say, but it’s not.

These battles over the “right” interpretation are, of course, as old as the Bible itself. In today’s culture wars, the Bible—specifically a “one man, one woman” argument from the Book of Genesis—is employed by the Christian right to oppose gay marriage. This fight, as well as those over the efficacy of abstinence-education schools and intra-denominational squabbles over the proper role of women in church-leadership roles, have led many Americans (two thirds of whom rarely read the Bible) to believe that the Good Book doesn’t speak for them. Knust, a religion professor at Boston University, is also an ordained minister in the American Baptist denomination. Coogan, director of publications at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, once trained as a Jesuit priest. With their books, they hope to steal the conversation about sex and the Bible back from the religious right. “The Bible doesn’t have to be an invader, conquering bodies and wills with its pronouncements and demands,” Knust writes. “It can also be a partner in the complicated dance of figuring out what it means to live in bodies that are filled with longing.” Here, in summary, are the arguments:

The Bible is an ancient text, inapplicable in its particulars to the modern world.

In the Bible, “traditional marriage” doesn’t exist. Abraham fathers children with Sarah and his servant Hagar. Jacob marries Rachel and her sister Leah, as well as their servants Bilhah and Zilpah. Jesus was celibate, as was Paul.

Husbands, in essence, owned their wives, and fathers owned their daughters, too. A girl’s virginity was her father’s to protect—and to relinquish at any whim. Thus Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the angry mob that surrounds his house in Sodom. Deuteronomy proposes death for female adulterers, and Paul suggests “women should be silent in churches” (a rationale among some conservative denominations for barring women from the pulpit).

The Bible contains a “pervasive patriarchal bias,” Coogan writes. Better to elide the specifics and read the Bible for its teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness. Taken as a whole, “the Bible can be understood as the record of the beginning of a continuous movement toward the goal of full freedom and equality for all persons.”

Sex in the Bible is sometimes hidden.

Those who follow the gay-marriage debate are likely familiar with certain bits of Scripture. Two verses, from Leviticus, describe sex between men as “an abomination” (in the King James translation). Another, from Romans, condemns men who are “inflamed with lust for one another.” But as Coogan quips, “there is sex in the Bible on every page, if you just know where to look.” A full understanding of biblical teachings on sex requires a trained eye.

When biblical authors wanted to talk about genitals, they sometimes talked about “hands,” as in the Song of Solomon, and sometimes about “feet.” Coogan cites one passage in which a baby is born “between a mother’s feet”; and another, in which the prophet Isaiah promises that a punitive God will shave the hair from the Israelites’ heads, chins, and “feet.” When, in the Old Testament, Ruth anoints herself and lies down after dark next to Boaz—the man she hopes to make her husband—she “uncovers his feet.” A startled Boaz awakes. “Who are you?” he asks. Ruth identifies herself and spends the night “at his feet.”

From this, Coogan makes a rather sensationalistic exegetical move. When he is teaching to college students, he writes, someone inevitably asks about the scene in Luke, in which a woman kisses and washes Jesus’ feet—and then dries them with her hair. Is that author speaking about “feet”? Or feet? “As both modern and ancient elaborations suggest,” Coogan writes, “sexual innuendo may be present.” Scholars agree that in this case, a foot was probably just a foot.

That which is forbidden is also allowed.

The Bible is stern and judgmental on sex. It forbids prostitution, adultery, premarital sex for women, and homosexuality. But exceptions exist in every case, Knust points out. Tamar, a widow without children, poses as a whore and solicits her own father-in-law—so that he could “come into” her. Her desire to ameliorate her childlessness trumps the prohibition against prostitution. Knust also argues—provocatively—that King David “enjoyed sexual satisfaction” with his soulmate, Jonathan. “Your love to me was wonderful,” laments David at Jonathan’s death, “passing the love of women.”

Divorce is permitted in the Old Testament—but it’s forbidden in the Gospels. Jesus didn’t like it: that much is clear. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” he says in the Gospel of Mark. But in Matthew’s telling, Jesus softens his position slightly and leaves a loophole for the husbands of unfaithful wives. “When it comes to sex, the Bible is often divided against itself,” writes Knust.

Accepted interpretations are sometimes wrong.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is, as everyone knows, a story of God’s judgment against homosexuality, promiscuity, and other kinds of illicit sex. Except, Knust argues, it’s not. It’s a story about the danger of having sex with angels. In the biblical world, people believed in angels, and they feared them, for sex with angels led inevitably to death and destruction. In the Noah story, God sends the flood to exterminate the offspring of “the daughters of man” (human women) and “the sons of God” (angels, in some interpretations). Non-canonical Jewish texts tell of angels, called Watchers, who descend to earth and impregnate human women, who produce monstrous children—thus inciting God’s terrible vengeance. God razes Sodom not because its male inhabitants are having sex with each other, as so many contemporary ministers preach, Knust argues, but in part because the men of the town intended to rape angels of God who were sheltered in Lot’s house. And when the Apostle Paul tells women to keep their heads covered in church, he’s issuing a warning against inciting angelic lust: “The angels might be watching,” Knust writes.

Coogan and Knust are hardly the first scholars to offer alternative readings of the Bible’s teachings on sex. What sets them apart is their populism. With provocative titles and mainstream publishing houses, they obviously hope to sell books. But their greater cause is a fight against “official” interpretations. Knust, who was raised in a conservative Christian home, recalls with intensity reading the Bible on the couch with her mother, and—with a mixture of faith and skepticism—talking aloud about what it might mean. With her book, she encourages readers to do the same.

A person alone on her couch with Scripture can also come to some dangerous conclusions: the Bible has, at certain times in history, been read to support slavery, wife-beating, kidnapping, child abuse, racism, and polygamy. That’s why Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that citadel of Christian conservatism, concludes that one’s Bible reading must be overseen by the proper authorities. Just because everyone should read the Bible “doesn’t mean that everyone’s equally qualified to read it, and it doesn’t mean that the text is just to be used as a mirror for ourselves,” he says. “All kinds of heresies come from people who read the Bible and recklessly believe that they’ve understood it correctly.” As the word of God, he adds, the Bible isn’t open to the same level of interpretation as The Odyssey or The Iliad.

Yet in a democracy, even those who speak “heresies” are allowed a voice. And whether readers accept Coogan’s and Knust’s interpretations, the authors are justified in their insistence that a population so divided over questions of sex and sexual morality cannot—should not—cede the field without exploring first what the Bible actually says. The eminent Bible historian Elaine Pagels agrees. To read the Bible and reflect on it “is to realize that we have not a series of answers, but a lot of questions.”

Saturday, 5 February 2011

What India And Pakistan Have In Common?

 Nuclear arsenal?
No sir,… it is their “political deafness”.
(Even though, India is far better than Pakistan with an excellent record of peaceful and stable democracy, with all its bends and curves, of course! Being an Indian, I am extremely proud of my mother soil, a country that do not use terrorism as its foreign strategy, a country in constant pursuit of harmony within and without, in spite of the occasional speed bumps. )

The recentnews from America on Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is a matter of jubilation for the Pakistan  mob. Today “TheExpress Tribune” carries a thought provoking article by Pervez Hoodbhoy, on this matter. I believe it indeed is an eye-opener at the both sides of the LOC.
I know, permit me this pessimism, his voice will be obscured by that of the euphoric victory cry of the Pakistani crowd: “We have more & we want even more”

But I am sure that a new generation will arise one day to make things change for ever… but do not ask me when?

Re-posting this interesting Pervez Hoodbhoy article:

Pakistan’s nukes: How many are enough?
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Published: February 5, 2011

The latest news from America must have thrilled many: Pakistan probably has more nuclear weapons than India. A recent Washington Post article, quoting various nuclear experts, suggests that Pakistan is primed to “surge ahead in the production of nuclear-weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain as the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons power”.

Some may shrug off this report as alarmist anti-Pakistan propaganda, while others will question the accuracy of such claims. Indeed, given the highly secret nature of nuclear programmes everywhere, at best one can only make educated guesses on weapons and their materials. For Pakistan, it is well known that the Kahuta complex has been producing highly enriched uranium for a quarter century, and that there are two operational un-safeguarded plutonium-producing reactors at Khushab (with a third one under construction). Still, the exact amounts of bomb-grade material and weapons are closely held secrets.

But for argument’s sake, let’s assume that the claims made are correct. Indeed, let us suppose that Pakistan surpasses India in numbers – say by 50 per cent or even 100 per cent. Will that really make Pakistan more secure? Make it more capable of facing current existential challenges?

The answer is, no. Pakistan’s basic security problems lie within its borders: growing internal discord and militancy, a collapsing economy, and a belief among most citizens that the state cannot govern effectively. These are deep and serious problems that cannot be solved by more or better weapons. Therefore the way forward lies in building a sustainable and active democracy, an economy for peace rather than war, a federation in which provincial grievances can be effectively resolved, elimination of the feudal order and creating a tolerant society that respects the rule of law.

Pakistanis have long imagined the Bomb as a panacea for all ills. It became axiomatic that, in addition to providing total security, the Bomb would give help us liberate Kashmir, give Pakistan international visibility, create national pride and elevate the country’s technological status. But these promises proved empty.

The Bomb did nothing to bring Kashmiri liberation closer. India’s grip on Kashmir is tighter today than it has been for a long time and is challenged only by the courageous uprising of Kashmiris. Pakistan’s strategy for confronting India — secret jihad by Islamic fighters protected by Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella — backfired terribly after Kargil and nearly turned Pakistan into an international pariah. More importantly, today’s hydra-headed militancy owes to the Kashmiri and Afghan mujahideen who avenged their betrayal by Pakistan’s army and politicians by turning their guns against their former sponsors and trainers.

What became of the claim that pride in the bomb would miraculously weld together the disparate peoples who constitute Pakistan? While many in Punjab still want the bomb, angry Sindhis want water and jobs — and they blame Punjab for taking these away. Karachi staggers along with multiple ethnically motivated killings; Muhajirs and Pakhtuns are locked in a deadly battle. As for the Baloch, they are in open revolt. They resent that the two nuclear test sites — now radioactive and out of bounds — are on their soil. Angry at being governed from Islamabad, some have taken up arms and demand that army cantonments be dismantled. The Bomb was no glue.

Some might ask, didn’t the Bomb stop India from swallowing up Pakistan? The answer is, no. First, an upward-mobile India has no reason to want an additional 180 million Muslims. Second, even if India wanted to, territorial conquest is impossible. Conventional weapons, used by Pakistan in a defensive mode, are sufficient protection. If the mighty American python could not digest Iraq or Afghanistan, there is zero chance for a middling power like India to occupy Pakistan, a country four times larger than Iraq.

It is, of course, true that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons deterred India from launching punitive attacks at least thrice since the 1998 tests. India could do nothing after Pakistan’s secret incursion in Kargil during 1999, the Dec 13 attack on the Indian parliament the same year (initially claimed by Jaish-i-Muhammad), or the Mumbai attack in 2008 by Lashkar-i-Taiba. So should we keep the Bomb to protect militant groups? Surely it is time to realise that conducting foreign policy in this manner will buy us nothing but disaster after disaster.

It was a lie that the Bomb could protect Pakistan, its people or its armed forces. Rather, it has helped bring us to this grievously troubled situation and offers no way out. It is time for Pakistan to drop its illogical opposition to the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty which, incidentally, would impact India far more than Pakistan. We need fewer bombs on both sides, not more.

The author teaches nuclear and particle physics in Islamabad and Lahore

Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2011.