Monday, February 23, 2009

Holy Wars

“In a short space of time all the people in the Delhi fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers.”

Taken from the Tuzk-e-Taimuri, Timur’s (alleged) memoirs recount a fateful day of “ethnic cleansing” as he looted and plundered and amassed wealth and a haraam harem. I could see Timur being an egotistical, religious maniac, exaggerating his escapades to sound impressive; to furnish a permanent place in the annals of lunatic murderers. But in spite of his bloated ego, Timur’s intent is clear. The infidels must be purged. Allah’s will be carried out.

Elsewhere, less than a couple of centuries away, the French Religious wars raged on, 36 years, probably desensitizing a couple of generations of brie lovers to violence. The culture shock the French must have faced was thankfully short lived. Nearby, less than 20 years later, the Germans and the British would start one of their own wars based on their inability to agree on the details of what god “instructed” some random asshole on some remote mountain over a millennium ago. Over these 66 years… and one day, an estimated 15.6 Million people would be wasted away at god’s command1.

Almost instinctively, the apologist is certain to point fingers at the murderous tendencies of prominent “atheist” mad men, Hitler2 and Stalin3. While this argument has swiftly and effectively been rebutted by the “four horsemen”, I choose to show that the genocides and wars that raged from religious and theistic impetus have been far more gory, gruesome, blood curdling than the major wars of the 20th century, The World Wars.

In comparison, the two world wars overshadow the two major religious wars (that I can recall) by sheer volume of cadavers. With conservative estimates of 19 and 40 million chronologically, they far outyield the 15 million estimated of the religious wars.

Tanks, mines, missiles, gunships, bombers, fighter planes, submarines, and of course, Fat Man and Little Boy have made the body count of the world war’s possible; making wars a little more impersonal in the 20th century. The days of staring into the eyes of the enemy had been left behind in the medieval ages, to those who could stomach the blood and gore; to the pious. Technology in battle had the ability to delay the effect of battle, the effect waste of human life can have on a rational mind, only bringing it to the foreground post mortem.

But what the religious wars lose in body count, they make up for in sheer callousness and underestimation of human life. Staring into the enemy’s eyes, day after day, for decades together, mercilessly slaughtering, is a task that the religious masses seem to effortlessly pull off and master. Only god knows what devastation these armies would be capable of, if they had the resources of the 20th century, with enough enemy bodies as in the 20th century4.

1. These remain just the most obvious, bloody, and patent representations of religious violence. James Haught recounts other atrocities that have been committed by religion and the pious.

2. Hitler’s religious beliefs are still highly debated, and to this day, attempts to prove his atheistic ideology have been inconclusive. However, Hitler was a practicing Roman Catholic and remained one until his death.

There is an obvious rebuttal to this point of mine, and I will preempt it by offering my rebuttal, saving us some time.

Many claim that Hitler, an irreligious man (at least one who was against Christianity in his heart), used his ties with the roman catholic church to gain the sympathies of the catholics and protestants, and was nothing more than shrewd confidence trick. Having said that, it was the above mentioned churches that lent credibility to Hitler among the people of Germany, and more importantly, they were not against the bloodshed and means of the Nazis and Hitler. So as co-conspirators, the above mentioned churches are just as guilty as Hitler’s ideology (whatever it may be).

3. Hector Avalos, a scholar of the Bible, has in his book “Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence” claimed that Stalin “had a complex relationship with religious institutions in the Soviet Union.” I say claimed, as I have not read the book myself and rely on a source, while not completely reliable, certainly no worse than the monkey work contained in certain other texts.

4. The world population and its explosion has been a primarily 20th century phenomenon. During the period of the two world wars, the population rose from about 1.5 billion to 2.5 billion, in spite of the massive bloodshed in the two wars, of 131 million or 0.131 billion, or more importantly 6.5 percent of the mean population. While the world population during the 100 year period of the two religious saw a negligible rise from 427,000,000 to 500,000,000 and the death toll at 3.5 percent.

While that figure might seem to indicate the brutality of the world wars, it is limited, as almost all statistics are by the “big picture”. The big picture here shows of a zealous war, fought with no major technological assistance, in just a small portion of the earth (the world wars were fought by 35 and 68 countries compared to a handful during the two medieval wars).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gun Shy

"There is no reason for anyone in the country, for anyone except a police officer or a military person, to buy, to own, to have, to use, a handgun. The only way to control handguns use in this country is to prohibit the guns. And the only way to do that is to change the Constitution."

-- Michael Gartner

NY Times: Daily gun deaths in USA

Gun control is probably one of the most controversial debates in current day United States. After LGBT rights, abortion and possibly the death penalty, gun control is probably the most hotly debated issue. A pacifist for as long as I have thought about this question, everything seemed black and white. People for the right to bear arms have always struck me as a little crazy.

My first experience with a handgun was not so long ago. Even though it wasn’t loaded, the safety was on, I felt a bit like a geeky teen at the prom, just approached by the prettiest girl; apprehensive, panicky and definitely sweaty. I was silently relieved when the firearm was put back into its gun safe. Okay, not so silently. I even made it a point to vocally point out how uncomfortable I was, if my body language hadn’t already betrayed the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been in reverence of handguns. During my high school years (Junior college back home) I was quite the gun enthusiast, admiring their inherent beauty, while awestruck at their immeasurable power, but always too much of a pussy to ever venture into the real world of guns. Forensic science and firearm forensics especially, held me captivated. Fortunately, I told myself, firearms let go that strangling grip, of an invention that definitely would have been the end of me, and from a career that would definitely be a dead end. My knowledge of firearms, therefore, always remained nascent and underdeveloped.

It has been said that fear always springs from ignorance. It could be argued that this was the case with me and firearms. They would be right. I was soon to re-discover and re-think firearms; though not as blue eyed as my teen self. Having been on the Pro-gun control side of the issue, the arguments for gun control were sufficiently convincing to me. After all, who needs more guns in the hands of the corrupters of society?

But things would turn gray soon. Thanks in part to an “indie” movie that I accidentally came across (a sign from god? *^%K, I’m republican) tackling the very issue of gun control. Dear Wendy, probably one of the most hated movies (because it is “ideologically doctrinaire on the one hand and a wannabe hot youth movie on the other”) seemed to make sense to me. I guess I am THAT insane. The movie is about a pacifist youth, exploring guns, his fascination for it, and the eventual demise of his pacifist views when he is forced to use his guns, and on the law too!

People dislike this movie, because it is supposedly anti 2nd amendment, and “talks about an issue the filmmakers know nothing about”, but for some reason I found it the exact opposite (again, only cranial misfirings to blame). The movie was a romanticized commentary on perceptions of guns, pacifism, pacifism and guns, their incompatibility etc. And for me, it began the dreaded thought process of the “morality” of gun culture.

While the movie had barely begun to make me think, barely budging me out of my comfort zone, another incident would force me on a fast track to reconsider my stance. The Mangalore Pub incident (where 40 politically backed psychopaths violently evacuated a pub of all its women, while battering them and assaulting any men that came to their aid, all in the name of Indian culture, while media and law enforcement paraded and silently witnessed, respectively) while initially leaving me unaffected and unruffled, as my capacity to withstand Indian stupidity and idiocy was assumedly at its limits; would soon turn to shock and squeamishness, as I witnessed the videos of the act. This was further compounded by the reactions to the incident, which I thought Indians would unanimously find revolting. What I was to discover, painted a very different India, from the one I was exposed to, during my formative years in three of India’s four metropolitans.

Apart from an unprecedented culture shock (one that I didn’t even notice when I first stepped onto US soil), these incidents forced me to empathize, (not with the women, for that would be patronizing) with the men that tried to protect their women (be it sister, girlfriend or just out of humanitarian kinship). I was forced to relive the scenario, for the terrible fear that gripped me, warned me of my unpreparedness for such an eventuality. “What would you do under these circumstances?”

The answer would not come, possibly because I really was unprepared, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. And being as physically advantaged as I am, there was no recourse in sight. That is when I came across Thomas Jefferson’s own views over guns. He opined that guns (as a symbol of power) are necessary for every citizen to hold onto, not to shoot down their neighbors dog, but to make sure no one else gets to shoot him down, or his rights.

A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.
--- Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, 1785.

It can be argued, and rightly so, that Jefferson was in an era of the Wild West, where an honor code was sufficient to keep people from killing each other, which has been eroded away by people and, I hypothesize, their religion. In fact, since we are quoting Jefferson, here are some more, to get some perspective:

We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country.

"We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

--Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

While the debate in America is a lot more complicated than Jefferson could have visualized, with all the (religious) nuts that roam around freely, I feel that India, which is in this regard more than a 100 years behind it’s time (arguably more), is yet to embark upon its true revolution. We are yet to fight for our freedom, and show that we will not stand for an aggressor, whether it is from within the state or from outside of it. All Gandhi did, was show to the world that we have the capacity to withstand immeasurable amounts of cruelty and injustice. And while Gandhi’s non-violence might have earned us some brownie points in international opinion, on our non-violent and non-aggressive stances, it has long been nullified with the history of violence since then. It is time; I think, that Indian’s re-evaluate their stance on guns. It is time we lose our sheepish naiveté, our misplaced mistrust of guns and our indoctrinated fear of revolutions.