Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When atheists and secularists want to play God

In India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, a state in south India, said that Lord Ram, a god in the Hindu pantheon, did not exist. The chief minister M. Karunanidhi heads the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which has strong atheist underpinnings.

Karunanidhi was reacting to Hindus, the majority community in India, who are opposed to a canal that could damage Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka.

The Hindus, quoting from a Sanskrit epic called the Ramayana, believe the bridge, which consists of a chain of limestone shoals, was built by supporters of Lord Ram to reach Sri Lanka, and rescue his abducted wife Sita from the asura king, Ravana.

Where is it said that this Ram was an architect, asked Karunanidhi who described the bridge as “natural” rather than man-made. Protests by agitated Hindus led to the burning of a bus killing two persons.

Move over to the UK. A Hindu woman working at Heathrow Airport, for caterers Eurest, was dismissed for wearing a nose stud, which she said was a mark of her Hindu faith, reports the BBC.

Last year, another Heathrow worker Nadia Eweida was suspended by British Airways for wearing a Christian cross, but later reinstated following condemnation by clerics and politicians, according to the BBC.

These moves violate people’s right to practice their faith. A nose ring or a cross can in no way be considered offensive.

Secularists are getting mixed up between secularism, which means that religion should not interfere in state matters, and the right of human beings to believe in what they want, and wear the symbols of their religious identity.

Last year, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the wearing of full face veils, called the niqab, by Muslim women was a " a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable," according to the International Herald Tribune and other newspapers.

Blair was closing ranks with Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, who earlier in the month said he did not believe women should wear the full-face veil.

Earlier, the French parliament passed a law in March, 2004 that bans the wearing of religious symbols, such as the Islamic veil, and large Christian crosses in schools.

Secularists have expressed their opposition to the niqab as a sign of the oppression of women in Muslim society, but a number of Muslim women have said that it is an expersssion of their identity. Which should serve as a reminder that other religious communities and cultures should not be always judged by Western standards.

These remarks and rules also demonstrate that atheists and secularists can at times be as intolerant of other people’s views as fundamentalists and fascists.

To be sure, the secularists and progressive Muslims are within their rights to push for change, but not by law, expuslions, and public pronouncements by officials of the state. That goes against another prized Western tenet – the separation of the State and religion.

Related Articles:

Ram Setu: the importance of religious symbols

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