By Ishrat Saleem
June 30, 2010
In many ways, I feel, we are like Tarlochan Singh, whose religion lied in his turban and underwear. Our religion is hijab or beard, or complete segregation of sexes.
One of ships in the Turkish flotilla carrying aid for Gaza was named ‘Rachel Corrie’, after the 23-year old American peace activist who was martyred on March 16, 2003, when she tried to prevent an advancing Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home by standing in front of it, as part of non-violent resistance by International Solidarity Movement activists. The Israeli Defence Forces fulfilled her premonition, when she wrote to her mother back in the US that “if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide”. She sent out a loud message not only to her mother, but to the entire world that they needed to open their eyes to the plight of the Palestinians and shed complacency, that the American government and people are complicit in the genocide being systematically carried out in Gaza through their policy to support Israel. Hers is the modern day parable of courage and conviction.
What she was doing there in youthful years when probably a brilliant career awaited her in her American land of dreams? Her emails to family and friends back home carefully document what she saw and experienced in Rafah, Gaza, and reveals a long process of introspection that took place before she landed into the conflict ridden area. She was too truthful to herself to ignore her calling. She took on herself the task of standing against the policies of her country and show solidarity with an oppressed people.
We hate all Jews from the innermost membranes of our guts. We love to hate the US and we profess to be the followers of a prophet whose life was defined love, mercy, compassion, and a struggle for peace. We too feel sympathy for the Palestinians, but there is a marked difference in our reaction and that of Rachel. We have gone too far in our hatred to shed our prejudices and look at modern day realities with an open mind. Before her martyrdom, perhaps Rachel Corrie too fell into the neat category of our cherished ‘enemy’, because she was American as well as Jewish.
She is not the first Jewish woman to inspire me. In his short story Mozail, set in Mumbai undergoing partition riots in 1947, Saadat Hasan Manto puts in sharp contrast the empty religiosity of a Sikh character Tarlochan Singh with the courage of a Jewish woman Mozail, who refuses his marriage proposal precisely for the reason that Tarlochan is too superficially religious for her taste. Tarlochan’s reverence for religion is tied to his turban, which he refuses to remove for fear of revealing a shaved head in front of his newfound love. Mozail, on the other hand, does not believe in outward manifestations of religion, but understands the true meaning of courage and compassion and gets killed while attempting to rescue Tarlochan’s Sikh fiancée Karpal Kaur from a sensitive neighbourhood. She goes out naked into the street to distract attention of a rioting mob. In powerful strokes, Manto delineates a bleeding Mozail without any clothes on, lying in the middle of small crowd. In her death throes, she refuses to cover herself with Tarlochan’s turban when, dazed by the horror of what had happened, he finally removes it and offers it to her. I know Mozail is a fictional character, but all of Manto’s characters were inspired by life.
Reading this story many years ago had a similar impact as had the act of supreme courage of Rachel Corrie in Rafah. An encounter with the purest vibrations human courage molted away many layers of socially constructed perceptions of religion. In many ways, I feel, we are like Tarlochan Singh, whose religion lied in his turban and underwear. Our religion is hijab or beard, or complete segregation of sexes. We even nurture prejudice and hatred against certain sects or religions or nations and believe it is piety.
Incidentally, we are not the only victims of this syndrome. Divisions on religious lines run deep in today’s world. Like the Jews (who are all painted with the broad brush of Zionism) here, Muslims and Islam have been demonised in the West. Increasingly, they are treated with suspicion, less because of their individual inclinations, and more because of prejudice and fear existing in the minds of their onlookers.
The underlying message of all religions is the same. Neither one is superior to the other, nor do their followers have different capacities to be good or bad. Perhaps superior are those who, regardless of their religion, are more compassionate and have the courage of their convictions, like Rachel Corrie. “And there are, certainly, among the People of the Scripture, those who believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before Allah,” says the Quran (3:199).
Instead of spreading violence, hatred and divisions in the name of religion, we need to find common grounds with peoples of all faiths. I am daily inspired by the tweets of Dalai Lama on Twitter and would like to share some of his thoughts here:
* My aim has been to appeal for an approach to ethics based on universal rather than religious principles.
* A secular person can be spiritual: compassion is for everyone to practice.
* The greatest antidote to insecurity and the sense of fear is compassion — it brings one back to the basis of one’s inner strength.
* When our minds are clouded by hatred, selfishness, jealousy, and anger, we lose not only control but also our judgement.
* Love and compassion are the pillars of world peace.
* Compassion instils a sense of calm, inner strength, and a deep confidence and satisfaction.
* Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else.
I am sure there are people within Israel who are sick of the mindless violence of their state and want to reach out to the imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza. Let us embrace them.
The writer is an Assistant Editor at Daily Times and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan