Lowest Common Denominator

I have seen over and over again, the basic mathematic principle of lowest common denominator play out.

Be it relationships, work or politics, it is the lowest behavior that becomes common and everybody falls to it. People upholding higher statutes are sooner or later grinded down by people who uphold no higher values despite always claiming to do so.  Be it at the personal level — helping others despite inconveniences to themselves until the day you ask for help and are bluntly turned down, turning the other cheek  for so long that you realize they don’t care if a cheek is left on your face or selflessly offering service till you realize that most are busy furthering their own cause. Or be it at the global stage — secularism over fundamentalism, nonviolence over violence, integration over segregation.

And that brings us to the crux of the discussion today. Please read this article from New York Times, “British PM ‘Appalled’ by Protest Plans.” A radical Islamic group, Islam4UK, is planning a protest march through the streets of a town that has achieved iconic status in Britain for honoring the passing hearses of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan. As part of the protest march they plan to carry “empty” hearses to replay the honor bequeathed but this time to civilians killed in Afghanistan.

If that is not outrageous enough, this plan was announced by Islam4UK in letters sent to the families of the 246 British soldiers that have died in Afghanistan.

Islam4UK is an off-shoot of a group that was banned in 2005. The group in 2005 praised the perpetrators of 9/11 as heroes.

As you can see, it has got nothing to do with justice since it is not as if this group is asking for innocent Afghanis killed in the war to be honored, it is basically interested in honoring all Muslims — terrorists or otherwise and doesn’t care about honoring members of other religion. It is also not considering any facts about who started this latest cycle of violence in South Asia and the Western world including the barbaric attacks of 9/11.

I believe we are at a major inflection point in relationship between peoples. The doors that have been open in the West to integrate people from all parts of the world are going to get shut and shut fast, especially to natives of certain countries. For, some people are hell bent upon bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator — accept me but I will not accept you. Don’t fight me but I want to take you over.

Minarets and Temple Domes and Church Spires

Food for thought

There is an article on the BBC website titled, “Vatican and Muslims condemn Swiss minaret ban vote.” With the sub-heading, “Religious leaders across the world have criticised Switzerland’s referendum vote to ban the building of minarets.”

Which makes me wonder why the religious leaders around the world don’t have a standing condemnation of numerous Islamic countries A) for being Islamic countries and not secular nations and treating, by law, followers of other religions with supreme inequity and B) not allowing the building of temples and churches in their own nation?

Is this integration only one way?

And if so, is the ulterior motive behind such expansion to increase Islamic presence everywhere and diminish other religion’s presence in Islamic countries?

Tax me to help us

This is not my typical post. I came across the following rather interesting news story on the BBC website and thought of sharing it with the readers of this blog. What are your thoughts? 

Rich Germans demand higher taxes

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8321967.stm

A group of rich Germans has launched a petition calling for the government to make wealthy people pay higher taxes.

The group say they have more money than they need, and the extra revenue could fund economic and social programmes to aid Germany’s economic recovery.

Germany could raise 100bn euros (£91bn) if the richest people paid a 5% wealth tax for two years, they say.

The petition has 44 signatories so far, and will be presented to newly re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The group say the financial crisis is leading to an increase in unemployment, poverty and social inequality.

Simply donating money to deal with the problems is not enough, they want a change in the whole approach.

“The path out of the crisis must be paved with massive investment in ecology, education and social justice,” they say in the petition.

Those who had “made a fortune through inheritance, hard work, hard-working, successful entrepreneurship, or investment” should contribute by paying more to alleviate the crisis.

The man behind the petition, Dieter Lehmkuhl, told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel that there were 2.2 million people in Germany with a fortune of more than 500,000 euros.

If they all paid the tax for two years, Germany could raise 100bn euros to fund ecological programmes, education and social projects, said the retired doctor and heir to a brewery.

Signatory Peter Vollmer told AFP news agency he was supporting the proposal because he had inherited “a lot of money I do not need”.

He said the tax would be “a viable and socially acceptable way out of the flagrant budget crisis”.

The group held a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday to draw attention to their plans, throwing fake banknotes into the air.

Mr Vollmer said it was “really strange that so few people came”.

Alfred Nobel, Nobel Prize and Irony

As most of the readers must know, Alfred Nobel invented Dynamite. What you might not know is he also owned “Bofors,” a major armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its previous role as an iron and steel mill.

According to Wikipedia, “The erroneous publication in 1888 of a premature obituary of Nobel by a French newspaper, condemning him for his invention of dynamite, is said to have brought about his decision to leave a better legacy after his death.The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”[

Dr. Nobel didn’t, clearly, change his entrepreneurial activities before he died in 1896, eight years after the publication of the erroneous obituary. Instead, in his last will he decides to bequeath much of his enormous fortune to the five Nobel Prizes. One each in Physical Sciences, Chemistry, Medical Sciences, Literature and Peace (a new one has been added in Economics). The Peace Prize “is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.”

Bofors is still, to this date, one of the largest arms manufacturer in the world.

I am surprised that not too many of the talking heads or the pundits point-out the base irony fundamentally present in the Nobel Peace prize. Nobel, the merchant of death, and Peace is an oxymoron. And to me, it does little but expose the hypocrisy of human kind that money collected by creating and selling Dynamite is used to award the most prestigious “Peace Prize.” Not sure how Dr. Nobel could write “…suppression or reduction of standing armies” and not see the naked irony of it all. I forget the author’s name but she hit the nail on the head when she said, in a matter of fact manner, “the beauty of childhood is that it is not afflicted with hypocrisy yet, the very cornerstone of adulthood is hypocrisy especially the hypocrisies that the self doesn’t even see.” A very important goal of mine is thus to stay a child in this context.

It is good that President Obama has pledged to donate the prize money to charity.

My opinion, and I know President Obama did not apply for the Prize, President Obama doesn’t deserve it and it is going to be nothing but an impossible standard to meet when he ends up making tough decisions on Afghanistan, Iraq and may be Iran. Oh, and I don’t think he will make the easy decision on the domestic front — Gun Control — that 540 Mayors just petitioned him for. Isn’t that ironic: acting on gun control can taken away some “business” from Bofors reducing the Nobel families fortunes and may be their ability to dish out the Peace Prize (hey! I can dream, can’t I?).

Iran – Reform Resuscitated?

In an article titled, “Iran Cleric Defy Election Ruling” the BBC reports, “In a statement to the press, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers said some members of the Guardian Council had “lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public.”

How can one accept the legitimacy of the election just because the Guardian Council says so? Can one say that the government born out of the infringements is a legitimate one,” it said.”

It goes on to say, “On Saturday, Mr Rafsanjani – an influential figure in Iranian politics and a prominent backer of Mr Mousavi during the election – met with the families of some of those who have been detained.

It was the first time he had spoken publicly since the election. He told the families that nobody with a “vigilant conscience” could be satisfied with the current situation.

“I hope with good management and wisdom the issues would be settled in the next days and the situation could improve … We should think about protecting the system’s long-term interests,” Mr Rafsanjani said.

A BBC correspondent said that Mr Rafsanjani appeared to be hinting that a process was going on behind the scenes, which might resolve the current crisis.”

While it remains incredibly hard to imagine the authoritarian regime buckling under pressure but it is truly unparalleled times in the life of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Never have there been open rifts within the clergy and never has the authority of the Supreme Leader been questioned by the clerics themselves as now.

May be a power-sharing arrangement is still possible? Or at least some reforms announced by the current regime itself to lighten up on social restrictions? May be the death of the 20 people (reported) will not be in vain?

What are your thoughts?

Iran – what next?

The standoff in Iran between the military-theocratic regime of Ahmadenijad-Khamanei and the opposition parties led by Mir Hussein Mussavi has entered a tense phase. Having so clearly defined their positions and by putting so much at stake neither party can back down easily.

Major Newspapers are writing that predicting how the stand-off is  going to end is not easy.  New York Times has an article, “As Confrontation Deepens, Iran’s Path is Unclear.” The BBC has an article titled, “Titanic clash for Iran’s future,” which ends thus, “They may be arguing over a disputed election. But they are really arguing over the future of the country. A momentous, titanic struggle, whose outcome no-one can predict.”

The common wisdom goes that the ones who have the military and the supreme leader on their side are infallible. However, make no mistake, the hundreds of thousands who are turning out daily to protest for the opposition is not the only reason the opposition is so emboldened this time.

Continue reading

Iranian Election

We in the West were fed an image of Iran as a country full of Islamic zealots and a compliant and mind-washed citizenry. A country where there was not a cry for democracy but a whimper — people were too afraid to criticize the mullahs and the right wing politicians in bed with them.  I offer a recent article, The Magic Mountain, by Roger Cohen of his conversations with Iranian youth in the New York Times as testimony. Mr. Cohen, despite being one of the most incisive journalists and a great sympathizer of the democratic movement in Iran, could hear democratic voices only in whispers.

The reaction of the Iranian citizenry to the fraud perpetrated on them blows away that myth. The young and the old alike seem to be craving for democracy, lifting of the Islamic seize, freedom of speech and connection with the rest of the world.

Some interesting facts about the current elections:

All the ballots were cast by hand, i.e. were not computerized. In all a record 40 million people (80% of the electorate) voted. Elections closed Friday evening and given the gargantuan task at hand — of counting 40 million ballots manually — it was projected that the earliest indicators available will be by Saturday evening.

However, as early as Saturday morning Ahmadinejad was announced a winner. That was the first unbelievable part of the unfolding story.

Equally unbelievable, if not worse, was the margin. Supposedly, Ahmadinejad won 62.6% and Mousavi 34%. This made Ahmadinejad’s margin greater, much greater, than the first time he won beating Rafsanjani! The reasons that is so hard to believe are obviously the fury that is there for all to witness on Tehran’s streets and all the commentary pointed to the fact that the turnout was so high due to a lot of 1st time voters coming out to vote for Mousavi.  I encourage you to visit the BBC page “Iran poll results: Your Comments.” You will read comments from a lot of Iranians who are providing the inside story.

In addition to the electoral sham, the Internet connection and cell phone service has been switched off.  Text messaging was shut down during the campaign itself since Mousavi was using text messages to arrange campaign rallies and getting his message out. And lest you think these outlandish excesses of power take place only during election times, I heard an Iranian on a show on National Public Radio mentioning that no purchases over the Internet are allowed from outside of Iran — even an Amazon.com book cannot be purchased from Iran. Of course, facebook, twitter etc. are filtered.

Despite these gross violations of people’s right, I am sure Ahmadenijad will have the gall to stand on US soil when next addressing the UN general assembly and criticize American democracy and extol his implementation of Iranian government.

One of the comments at the BBC page is rather despondent. It is written by one Milad from Mashhad, Iran, “Today I learned that the worst thing in life is to think that you have a chance while you don’t.”

While I fully understand Milad’s sentiment, I see things differently. I see that the generation born after the Iranian Revolution has not bought the lies and deceptions that the mullah regime has successfully imposed upon the pre-revolution citizens. As the current generation of mullahs and corrupt right wing politicians like Ahmadinejad gets old, I see a strong chance for true democracy in the Iran of the future.