Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Guest Post

Hi everyone! Although this is not entirely related to the general theme of the blog, I successfully submitted a guest post to a popular Jewish blog, run by Rabbi Harry Maryles of Chicago. You can check it out here:, and read the 60+ comments!

Feel free to respond, and thanks again for your collective continued support! As I am currently on winter vacation, I am enjoying a break from being online. After the new year, I will be committed to posting more regularly.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guest Post

Hey everyone! Following up on the discussion here regarding gun control, I decided to contact representatives of the widely-respected U.K. group, called the Gun Control Network (GCN). You can access their website here:

From the GCN website: "All our activities and objectives are predicated on the belief that the interests of public safety demand a reduction in the availability and attractiveness of firearms of all kinds.  No reasonable person doubts the fundamental connection between the number of guns there are in a society and the prevalence of gun homicide, suicide and accident.

Almost all guns start out legal and there is no clear demarcation between legal and illegal weapons.  Therefore what is needed is legislation to control the availability of legal weapons and law enforcement to control the illegal ones." 

GCN representatives very kindly responded to my email, where I asked them to consider posting on the blog. We both decided it was incredibly important for all the readers of this blog to hear a U.K perspective on this issue, and what we can do to prevent gun violence. The GCN is at the forefront of the battle to reduce injuries, accidents, and deaths by firearms. Some of their objectives involve tightening gun licensing, increasing the license fee to cover the cost of making a more rigorous gun control system, establishing a National Gun Hotline, so people can contact authorities immediately if they feel they are concerned about someone the know with a gun, as well as myriads of other creative solutions to end this problem. 

In the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, many politicians have been saying that we cannot politicize this horrific event, and that now is not the time for dialogue. I too said this in the days following the shooting. However, now, I realize that it is of utmost importance that we act to tighten gun laws, so that this doesn't happen again. Below is a post written by GCN representative Chrissie. Much thanks is to do Mr. Peter Squires and Georgina of the GCN, for kindly responding to my queries and agreeing to post. Below are Chrissie's comments completely unedited:

"We have been following this blog on the subject of firearms with interest, and would like to offer our comments and UK perspective to this debate. The UK has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, making it one of the safest places in the world to live, and members of the UK organisation send their sympathy and support to those affected by the tragic shooting in Newton. 

GCN was formed in 1996 following a school gun massacre in Dunblane, Scotland when a gunman entered a school and shot dead sixteen 5 and 6 year old's and their teacher. As a result of our campaign, and with overwhelming support from the public, the media, and Members of UK Parliament, handguns were banned from private ownership in the UK in 1997.

The population of the United States is approximately five times that of the UK. Therefore, it would be expected that the firearms deaths in the United States would be five times greater than in the UK. There were 42 recorded firearms related deaths in the UK in the first half of 2012, and less than half of those were homicides. There are approximately 11,000 gun homicides in the United States every year.

National comparisons show a clear correlation between the number of guns in society and the number of related incidents see

The United States is suffering from an appalling number of gun massacres, but given the number of firearms in private ownership these frequent gun tragedies are not surprising, they are to be expected. This national sickness will not be remedied by endless speculation about the motives of perpetrators, or by arming more teachers, nurses, or shopping mall workers, because every armed individual is a potential perpetrator. Those familiar ill thought out flawed arguments regarding road traffic accidents and swimming pool drownings divert attention from the real issue - guns are designed to kill, cars and swimming pools are not.
The evidence is clear, there is hope of an improvement in the condition of the patient, but only if the patient is willing to try."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Good Evening. I'm sure all the readers of this blog are aware of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut this past Friday. Using a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle and a couple handguns, Adam Lanza was able to force his way into the school, and kill 20 children as well as 6 adults, before ending his bloody rampage by pulling the gun on himself. It is a horror that such an event took place in the United States of America. This kind of disgusting massacre cannot happen again.

In the wake of the catastrophic shooting, which was the 2nd deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, many have been determined to re-open the controversial issue of gun control for discussion around America. Ironically, we just had this debate, with great arguments from both sides, a mere few days ago! Many have argued that this kind of shooting clearly demonstrates why there need to be stricter regulations, and more control on guns. Others have responded by saying this is a rare case, and that most law-abiding citizens would never use guns in this despicable manner. But is the death of 20 children, whose lives were cruelly cut drastically short, a fair price to pay for the right to own a gun? These are all good questions, and most have of them have complex, multi-faceted answers.

But there is one thing I do know. I do not want to argue about gun control for a few more days, or perhaps even a week. Days after such a tragedy, we as Americans should be united in our care, prayers, and hopes for the families that lost their children. We should stand together and do all that is in our power to make sure that they are able to continue living, and we must make sure that these grieving parents know we care.

To politicize such a tragedy is, in my opinion, tasteless. The debate about gun control will definitely be had across American dinner tables, and on the Senate floor. However, now is simply not the time.

I just wanted to let you all know that I made a conscious and deliberate choice not to post about gun control right on Friday, after the tragedy. Many are using this tragedy to show why guns have to be regulated. I decided not to do so, in the spirit of American unity and brotherhood. Make what you want of my decision, but as a blogger who pursues truth, and intellectual honesty, I nevertheless could not find myself able to write so soon after this tragedy about the issue, and especially not to promote my own views. While this disaster can arguably be used as a case in point by gun control activists, I am sure that Americans everywhere, regardless of their political affiliations, will be hoping that we make sure this doesn't happen again. What is will take to make sure this doesn't happen again is the gargantuan question facing us tomorrow. Because today is for remembering the victims, and standing in solidarity and care with their anguished families.

May the souls of the victims of this tragedy be bound up in the bond of eternal life, and forever rest in peace.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Gun Debate

Hello again everyone! I apologize for my long absence from blogging. After the holiday season is finished, I will be able to concentrate on this enterprise more fully, so come January 2nd, expect at least tri-weekly posts! 

Anyway, today, I would like to talk about a very pressing issue in our country that has not been given the media attention it deserves, especially in the past year or two. As the title of this post suggests, the topic that I am referring to is the ongoing discussion in our country about what role guns should play in our society. Recently, I had a very lively debate with a classmate of mine about the right of individual Americans to bear arms. The debate was multi-faceted and cannot be transcribed here. However, our disagreement boiled down to a few, salient points. The first point was how to read and interpret the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Beyond the legal technicalities, we argued over the effectiveness of guns at preventing robberies, murders, and other violent crime. And lastly, in a more general sense, if gun ownership should be controlled, to what extent? Are automatic weapons an 'automatic' (no clever wordplay intended) no-no? How about high caliber ammunition? Perhaps you should only be allowed to own a gun if you go through a training course. Perhaps not. 

All of these questions have been grappled with for decades. Our Founding Fathers thought a great deal before writing the Second Amendment, and paid incredibly close attention to detail regarding the exact wording. The American revolutionaries of yore desired to have a unified, powerful government, but at the same time recognized the right of the people to rebel, and to rebel violently if need be, if this government began to behave corruptly, unjustly, or unconstitutionally. Nevertheless, constitutional legal scholars and experts have debated the this issue for years and years, regarding how to interpret this illusive amendment. 

Before we go any further, we must understand what the Second Amendment actually says. Here it is, in its pure, unadulterated form: 
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

There it is. In 2008, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case District of Columbia v. Heller.

Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the courts had not yet definitively stated what specific right the Second Amendment protects. There have been many opposing theories, however the court clarified the Second Amendment and now hold that it protects an individual's right to possess a firearm regardless of service in a militia, and to use that weapon for self-defense within the home, or other safety concerns. This right applies not just to the federal government, but to states and municipalities as well.

In this case, the Court ruled that the District of Columbia's proposed ban on handguns was a violation of every Americans' right to 'keep and bear arms.' The District of Columbia was also not allowed to force citizen's to lock their gun when not in use. 

While this ruling may seem like it permits everyone to own any gun at any time, it's not so simple. In 1994, under President Bill Clinton, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed. This made the buying or possession of assault (semi-automatic or automatic) weapons illegal. This law expired in 2004. A study done by the United States Department of Justice showed that this bill was not effective in halting crime because in cases of violent crime, people are not likely to be using bulky assault rifles. However, there have been several other very important bills regulating gun possession and usage in America. In 1990, the Gun Free School Zone Act was passed, prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun 1,000 feet of any elementary, middle, or high school. In 31 states today, you are allowed to carry a gun in public without a permit. The Brady Bill, passed in 1993, instituted federal background checks on all those want to purchase a firearm. 

Bottom Line: If you are over the age of 21, are not a convicted felon, have no past criminal history, are mentally stable, and buy from a federally licensed dealer, you can own a gun! At informal gun shows, it is notoriously easy to walk away with a piece of metal that can instantaneously kill a human being. 

While yes, most people keep guns for protection, and in cases of emergency, much of the time, gun ownership results in tragedy. In 2010, there were 8,775 murders from gun violence. Firearms were one of the top ten causes of death in the United States in 2010. Every year, over 200,000 people are hospitalized for non-fatal gun injuries.

Shocking Fact: In a paper done by Dr. Kellerman and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1986, a homeowner's gun is 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend, or acquaintance than it is to kill a malicious intruder. 

Over the years, school shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, as well as the recent attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords by a mentally deranged man have reignited this controversy. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two high school students, were able to two 9 mm guns and 2 twelve-gauge shotguns, as well as a rifle and a semi-automatic handgun. With these tools of destruction, they killed 12 and injured 21 in this disaster. 

How can we make sure this kind of disaster never happens again? Some say the answer is to control guns and gun possession. Others say that gun control advocates often ignore the Second Amendment. 

I have raised the issue. Now it's time for you, as a microcosm of the American people, to respond. What do you think should be the right approach? Are guns dangerous weapons that should be kept out of the hands of all except the military? Or are they a God-given right that government should leave alone? Or somewhere in the middle... Respond in the comments. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Commercialization of Thanksgiving

November 25, 2012

The Commercialization of Thanksgiving 

Good afternoon everyone! I hope you have all had great Thanksgivings, and have enjoyed the awesome long weekend! I know I certainly did.

I would like to use this time to talk (really rant) about what I see as the degradation of American holidays, and their authentic meanings in favor of commercializing them, and turning days of reflection, giving, and thankfulness into mere sales events, 'door buster deals,' and shopping trips. Only in America do we have a day where we are thankful for what we have, and then turn the following day, Black Friday, into a time where we literally trample other people in order to get what we think we need, at a lower price. This is the absolute height of irony, and something that could only happen in our country, the United States of America. Given this trend, I am honestly a bit sad to call myself an American, and to associate myself with millions of naive, shopping-obsessed fools who allow themselves to be duped by clever advertising and the '10% off' signs. So duped in fact, that they wake up in the middle of the night to go get deals on things like TVs, video games, other consumer electronics, and more stuff we really don't need. It’s all just about keeping up with the Joneses’.

It would be fine if people were buying things that they actually needed, but to wake up at 3 a.m. to go buy an Xbox 360, which just ends up wasting your time and money, is embarrassing, especially the day after we gather as families to eat a meal where we talk about how grateful we are for having food, and the presence of our loving parents, spouses, and children. It is a time where we ideally should be reflecting on the sacrifices of the pilgrims to build a new land. They fled from religious persecution, and did not worship money or gadgets as idols, but actually led purposeful lives, through worship, charity, and kind acts.

Not that I am one to whitewash history. The early pilgrims, and their later colonial friends, ended up wreaking havoc on the peaceful lives of the indigenous Native Americans. They used brute force to subjugate the native peoples, and stole many acres of their land. They looked down on the Native Americans as primitive and sub-human.

It is impossible for historians today to tally how many native Americans were killed through disease or warfare by European settlers. To give but one example: the Indian Removal Act of 1830 led to the Trail of Tears, in which about 20,000 Cherokee Indians were forcibly removed from their homes, and forced to walk over 2,000 from their reservation in Oklahoma. Read more about this tragedy here:

Getting back on my original train of thought, yes, there is no question that Europeans mistreated the Native Americans. However, that does not mean that we should totally write Thanksgiving off as irrelevant, or meaningless. We can still learn valuable lessons today in 2012 from these first pilgrims. We can learn about the importance of racial, and religious tolerance. Taking a leaf out of the Quakers' book would be a great start. William Penn, the founder of the great state of Pennsylvania, established this state as a region where anyone and everyone could live and thrive together peacefully, regardless of religion. His great experiment turned out to be a smashing success. However, we have not learned enough from the legacy of Mr. Penn.

According to a report from Pew's Forum on Religion and Public Life, "In the year ending in mid-2010, there was an increase in the number of incidents in the U.S. at the state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. This included incidents in which individuals were prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols, including beards, in some judicial settings or in prisons, penitentiaries or other correctional facilities. Some religious groups in the U.S. also faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions."

The United States of America has, according to this report, "moved from the low category of government restrictions on religion to the moderate category for the first time."

This is a problem that is perhaps even more important than our obsession with shopping, and our ridiculously easy ability to be misled by corporations that want our money. We need to step up our tolerance game, and regain our rightful place as a world superpower. That cannot happen without tolerance.

Europe has also become far more xenophobic, and intolerant, especially of Muslims, during the past few years. According to a U.S. State Department report, Europe has "growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered ‘the other.’”

In the past few years, Belgium and France passed laws restricting dress that “adversely affected Muslims,” while Hungary passed laws that make it so difficult to register religious organizations that the number of religious groups has fallen from 300 to 32. In 2009, Switzerland added a constitutional amendment banning the construction of minarets.

This is a serious problem. In Egypt, Coptic Christians get murdered, and their churches burned on a daily basis. In the U.S., we all remember the maddening hysteria surround the Park 51 Muslim community center.

An extremely important idea that we need to take to heart, as Americans, and as citizens of the world, is that of religious tolerance, and acceptance.

In my eyes, it is tragic that people fight over the new iphone 5, while over 30,000 innocent civilians have died in Syria due to government-sanctioned genocide, without us doing anything about it.

Commercialization is not only limited to Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, New Years, and Valentine's Day. It has also seeped into what used to be religious holidays. Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, etc, are now known as mere holiday shopping seasons, devoid of their religious significance.

I am deeply sympathetic to Christians that wish to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, and discuss its religious events and messages, rather than focusing on turning it into a time to merely buy gifts. I wish more Americans would do that, rather than get sucked into the commercial bubble.

While there is definitely value in buying gifts for those that are in your life, including family and friends, we Americans take it to a whole 'nother level. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2011, 55.2 billion dollars was spent on Black Friday shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a whole lot of money!

Perhaps instead of using our money to buy more electronics and purses, we could focus on spending at least some of it to organizations that are currently helping victims of Hurricane Sandy. Many of these people are now homeless and carless. Holiday gifts are the last of their worries- try buying a new house! Let's take the spirit of gratitude that Thanksgiving is infused with, and apply it to our own lives.

We are grateful for what we have, and therefore, we have an obligation to give.  Because of the gifts that we have been given, some natural, some from others, we have been able to succeed, and live happily. Now, it’s up to us to give of ourselves and our talents to others, be they friends, family or strangers. Because ultimately, giving of ourselves is what really provides us with meaning and satisfaction in life. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

November 18, 2012
What Would Confucius Do? 

    Good morning everyone! Once again, I'd like to extend a huge thank you to those that are continuing to read and comment this blog. I really appreciate the support!

In the past few weeks, my world history class has been learning about several ancient Asian civilizations, namely, China and India (as evidenced by my last few posts). In that vein, I'd like to begin a fascinating conversation topic, that was suggested by my world history teacher. The question is, if Confucius was alive today, who would he have voted for in the recent U.S. presidential election? 

As with all questions in life, this cannot be answered superficially. I am sure there are Ph.D  theses out there that have dealt with some form of this question! However, I will try my best to address some relevant issues that will help us come closer to an answer.

In order to fully answer this, we need to know some very important information. First of all, who was Confucius, and what did he contribute to society? Second of all, what were his personal beliefs regarding government, religion, and societal behavior? And finally, the hardest one of all, if he were living today, what would he believe?

Let's answer these one at a time.

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher, writer, and visionary who lived about 2500 years ago from 551-479 B.C.E in Ancient China. For historical purposes, it is extremely important to realize that Confucius lived and wrote right smack in the middle of what is called the 'Hundred Schools of Thought' period of Chinese history. This era lasted from circa 600-200 B.C.E. It got its name from the many (perhaps hundred!) different philosophical, theological, and political schools of thought that emerged and began to flourish at this time. Although China was constantly in the midst of inter-state warfare and bloodshed, during these years, a broad range of new, creative ideas and philosophies began to develop. It became a sort of 'golden age of Chinese philosophy.' Among the many great thinkers who lived during this time was Confucius. His thoughts and writings turned into a very popular philosophy, known as Confucianism, which included many religious aspects as well. It greatly influenced and continues to influence the lifestyles and social behavior of many Asian countries, up until the present day.

The core of Confucianism is the belief that we as human beings are imperfect and very teachable. The primary objective of life is to improve one's conduct, manners, and behavior through reinvention and recreation. Ethical behavior is held in the highest regard by adherents of Confucianism. The three most important, basic ethical principles are ren, yi, and li. In short, these three cardinal principles basically entail always seeking to do good, behaving morally, and being an altruistic, self-less person.

Confucius taught his eager disciples his philosophical outlook on life, and they later transcribed his words into six books. They consisted of laws, poetry, rituals, and his thoughts. Confucian ethics and morality can be boiled down to five different values. These are:


Along with these, Confucius also wrote extensively regarding the merits and importance of loyalty, filial piety, honesty, and kind-heartedness. 

More importantly regarding our question is Confucius's attitudes about government. In short, Confucius believed that before we govern others, we must govern ourselves. He believed (perhaps too idealistically) that if people are righteous, kind, and just, then influence and power will naturally come to them, because they gain respect. Confucius was a big believer in a meritocratic system, where people attain positions of power and prestige based on their character and intelligence, rather than military might or wealth. 

The idea that becoming moral and ethical is greater than being born into nobility was a novel concept, that has greatly influenced Western civilization. 

Confucian thought greatly influenced European thinkers who lived during the period of Enlightenment. Humanistic philosophies began to take hold of Europe in the 1500s. Many of these revolutionary idealogues and philosophers took their inspiration from Confucius, in order to protest the Church's abuses of power, and call for an end to monarchy.

While I have mainly talked positively about Confucius, and his impact on Asian society, it my duty and obligation as an objective writer to also write about some of the negative aspects of Confucianism. Since the Han Dynasty, Confucian thought has largely defined Chinese social thought, and beliefs (although they were often willfully distorted). Today, his beliefs about the roles of each gender are still widely accepted. This is where the waters get a little murky. 

Confucians taught that a virtuous woman was supposed to uphold 'three subordinations': be subordinate to her father before marriage, to her husband after marriage, and to her son after her husband died. Men could remarry and have concubines, whereas women were supposed to uphold the virtue of chastity when they lost their husbands.

This ideology leaves most 21st century Americans with a bitter taste in their mouth. Confucius, for all his innovation and modern thinking regarding self-improvement and government, would be considered an overt sexist in our society. Some of his followers coined adages like: 

"A woman's duty is not to control or take charge."
"Woman's greatest duty is to produce a son." 

It is impossible to know what Confucius believed today. However, his modern-day followers to continue to hold onto many of his beliefs about the domesticity and subordination of women. As much as we would like to apologize for Confucius, we cannot. The only comfort we have is that like Confucius taught, human beings are imperfect. 

With this pertinent historical background in mind, I believe that we can a pretty sound prediction as to who Confucius would have voted for. To summarize: Confucius strongly believed in improving oneself morally and ethically, that the splendor of government should be given through merit, that we have an obligation to take care of the poor, destitute, and downcast, and that women should live domestically, and serve their husbands.  

Because of my fear of subjectivism and being partisan in my answer, I decided to take an online political spectrum quiz, and answer the questions based on what Confucius would say. I took the quiz on political, and here are my results: The following are your scores. They are based on a gradual range of 0 to 12. For instance, a Conservative/Progressive score of 3 and 0 will both yield a result of social conservative, yet 0 would be an extreme conservative and 3 a moderate conservative

Conservative/Progressive score: 8
You are a social moderate. You think the progressive movement is overall well meaning, but sometimes it goes too far. On issues like abortion and affirmative action, you see the negatives of both extremes on the issue. You probably value religion, but at the same time you think it should still stay separate from the government

Capitalist Purist/Social Capitalist score: 9
You're a Social Capitalist, you think that, left to its own, Capitalism leaves a lot of people behind. You think that Health Care should be free to all, that the minimum wage should be raised, and that the government should provide jobs to all that are capable of having them. You likely hated the Bush tax cuts, and believe that the middle class has gotten poorer, and the rich have gotten richer over the past several years. The far extreme of social capitalism is socialism.

Libertarian/Authoritarian score: 6
You're a Moderate. You think that we all have certain inalienable rights that must be protected, but that sometimes laws need to be made to protect the majority's lives or quality of lives. You might think that the 2nd amendment isn't necessary anymore because letting everyone a gun is extremely dangerous to the community. You might also be against illegal drug use or public pornography because of its possible harmful effects to society.

Pacifist/Militarist score: 2
You're a Pacifist. You are angered that the United States thinks it should dominate the world through its military force. You think that the only time war is necessary is when we are in direct danger of being attacked. You also believe the US spends way too much of its money on defense, as we can practically cut it in half and still easily defend ourselves, and use that money to fix all our economic problems.

Overall, you would most likely fit into the category of Democrat

I'll let the results speak for themselves. And now, I'll turn the question over to all of you. Do YOU think Confucius would have voted Democrat? Answer in the comments below. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11th, 2012 

Hinduism and Islam: A Fractured Relationship 

Welcome back everyone, to another post! I would like to first say that on a personal note, I have been overwhelmed by the comments, and views that this blog has gotten. I am surprised, and humbled to know that several hundred people have visited this blog in the past week or so. I hope to continue to write, react, and question all that we know about history, and to be able to use this blog as a vehicle for my thoughts and feelings regarding all things historical in nature. 

Today, I will be writing about the relationship between two important religions, Hinduism and Islam, and the dynamics of their relationship in India, and Pakistan. In this post, I will explore the underpinnings of this historic conflict, and try to show through history why India and Pakistan are the way they are today, and how this happened over time. 

Before making conclusions about how to unite Hindus and Muslims, it is crucial to know what divides them. With that in mind, I will roughly summarize what Hindus and Muslims respectively believe. 

Hinduism is a religion that was started in India thousands of years ago. Hindus do not believe that there was one founder, but rather, that their beliefs have evolved, and were shaped over time through the work of many priests, and contact with other religions. Because there is no overarching religious personality in Hinduism, religious practices, beliefs, and traditions often vary from village to village. Yes, all Hindus believe in, and study the Vedas (Hinduism's scriptures), but after that, it is up to individuals on how to live Hindu lives. Unlike Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, Hinduism does not have real religious structure. They do not pray in elaborate places of worship, or have complex religious hierarchies. In some ways, this makes religious life easier, but it also ends up dividing Hindus as well. 

Theologically, it is hard to pin down exactly what Hindus believe about their God(s). They definitely worship many different deities, which often take the forms of people and animals. However, some Hindus will say that these different forms are all mere aspects and sides of the one great Deity Brahma, the creator of the world. Many Westerners view Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, and that is certainly not an outrageous claim. 

One of the main tenants of the Hindu faith is belief in reincarnation, karma, and dharma. In brief, Hindus believe that after the body dies, the soul is judged, and it's then reincarnated into another body, or even animal. If it was good, it will be reincarnated as a priest, or warrior. If it was bad, it might become an untouchable. As a side point, this is the reason why the caste system was religiously sanctioned and validated in India for so long. 

On the other hand, Islam is rather recent; having started in the 600s C.E. Muslims believe that one man, Mohammed, began to receive messages from the angel Gabriel, who transmitted them from the one God, Allah, who created the world. Mohammed wrote these messages down, and they became the foundation of the Koran, Islam's holy book. Muslims are monotheists in the true sense of the word. They firmly believe in the incorporealness of God, and in the strict oneness of God. To Muslims, all idol-worship is heresy, and must be destroyed. As the Koran says:  Allah does not forgive idolatry,* but He forgives lesser offenses for whomever He wills. Anyone who sets up idols beside Allah, has forged a horrendous offense.(4:48). Muslims also believe that it is their religious duty to convert non-Muslims, so that these ‘infidels’ will be saved from eternal damnation.

When one understands the core beliefs behind Hinduism and Islam, it makes total sense why they are in bitter conflict up until the present day! Hindus believe in many Gods (or at least many forms of God), and are uninterested in converting others. The core belief of Islam, on the other hand, is the absolute oneness and superiority to Allah. The Islamic declaration of faith, known as the ‘shahadah,’ confirms this. Islam is so pro-monotheism to the exclusion of all else. The Koranic quote that I brought validates this. Idol worship is an unforgiveable sin!

Now for some history.      For thousands of years, Hinduism flourished as the main religion of India. Hindus made important advances in art, medicine, and mathematics. Their temples, some of which survive today bear testament to their artistic creativity and religious convictions.

Around the year 1000 C.E., Islam began to make waves throughout much of the world. Mohammed’s followers were imbued with religious fervor, and set out on a mission to establish a world-wide Islamic caliphate. They pushed through all of the Arabian region, the Middle East, and into Spain. These fighters battled the Chrisian crusaders for hundreds of years, and ended up resoundingly defeating the ragtag, impoverished Christian armies.

Mahmud of Ghazni cunningly saw the opportunities of conquering India. He assembled a skilled army, and descended from Afghanistan into the Indus plains. They thoroughly routed the Hindus, ransacked their temples, and made off with  expensive jewelry, money, and idols. After this easy victory, Mahmud decided to make a second entry into India. This second battle was also overwhelmingly won by the Muslims. According to rough figures, nearly 50,000 Hindus were massacred. After Mahmud, the bloodshed continued. For several hundred years, bands of Muslim soldiers would routinely enter Hindu territory, wreck havoc, humiliate their opponents in war, and then promptly leave. In 1398, Tamberlaine, a devout Muslim, led warring parties into north-west India,. His troops committed unthinkable crimes, and when the dust had settled, 5 million Indians were dead, in the space of 6 short months. Soon after, in 1526, the Mughal Empire was founded in Delhi. They were descendants of the earlier Muslim marauders and conquerors. Very quickly, native Hindus were subjected to heavy taxes and difficult working conditions. Overall, the situation of Hindus in India at this point was inexcusably challenging and painful. However, by the beginning of the 17th century, a new era had dawned. The so called, ‘golden age’ of India began, when Emperor Akbar breached protocol, and married a Hindu princess. Subsequently, many Hindus became appointed to important government positions, and gained considerable political power.

Ethnically, they became the same, because of hundreds of years of coexistence and intermarriage. Their languages, Urdu and Hindi were incredibly similar, they looked the same, and most of them were very poor. However, their theological and religious differences prevented them from becoming too friendly. After all, Muslims back then considered cow meat to be a delicious delicacy, while Hindus considered these animals holy, and abstained from eating them. And of course, idolatry, etc..

Since India and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947, many wish to claim that the conflict is over. Secularists in both countries have worked to patch relations, and get beyond religion. This is easier said than done. There are many Hindus today that harbor bitter feelings of resentment and animosity towards Muslims, and specifically Pakistani Muslims. These Hindus believe that Islam’s intolerance, and history of violence, has destroyed the possibility of civility between the two religions.

From a historical perspective, Islam has to lot to apologize for. Murder, especially murder in the name of religious zealousness, cannot be tolerated in a moral society. It seems that at least historically, Muslims were in the wrong, and Hindus were in the right.

However, when we look at modern, post-1947 history, it is clear that both sides are equally culpable. There have been four major wars between India and Pakistan in this time, and numerous unofficial, smaller conflicts. For over 30 years, both countries actively pursued nuclear weapons, and finally attained them in the 1990s. Not ironically, the first Indian nuclear bomb was named after a Hindu deity, and the Pakistani bomb was named after a Muslim conqueror of India! It was not India vs. Pakistan anymore, but Islam vs. Hinduism!

As a Jew, I believe that achieving peace is a religious imperative. Jewish tradition famously teaches that the entire Torah, Jewish scripture, was written for the sake of peace in this world. Therefore, the Islam vs. Hinduism conflict is of utmost importance to me.

Because of this, I feel like as much as Hindus and Muslims have suffered at the hands of each others’ swords and guns, it is important for them to reconcile, in order to build a successful future.

It will not be easy to undo hundreds of years of ingrained hate on both sides, but it can be done. Ever since both sides acquired nuclear weapons, no real wars have broken out. Muslims and Hindus in each country live in relatively close proximity to one another, work together, and play together. The seeds of peace have already been sown. As the Psalmist writes, “the one who plants in tears will harvest in joy” (my translation). I hope this beautiful line will be representative of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reflections on the 'Untouchables' in Modern India

November 6, 2012
The Untouchables in India Today 

This past week, I read an incredibly fascinating, and deeply disturbing article in National Geographic about the plight of the 'untouchables,' or 'dalits' in modern India. One of out every six Indians lives a life of poverty, shame, and hardship, simply because of an accident of birth. You see, for thousands of years, India has maintained a rigid system of social stratification. Priests, warriors, landowners, and peasants make up this system. Over time, hundreds of subdivisions within these castes have been created. Simply stated, the higher caste you are, the better your life will be. However, there is one group of people that is not even considered to be a caste. They are the untouchables. These are Indians who look no different then anyone else, and behave no differently then their neighbors. However, because of the rules of this strict system, they cannot associate with anyone else in a higher caste, live in their neighborhoods, eat their food, or do any work other than extremely menial jobs. They are attacked, their daughters and wives are raped and beaten, and they cannot do anything about it. After all, that's life. The untouchables are considered too impure and filthy to be considered real human beings. They are socially shunned, insulted, and spat on. Ever since India declared independence, caste discrimination has officially been banned, and is deemed unconstitutional. However, this is rarely enforced. Untouchable men have to do cheap, menial labor. They often have to cover themselves in feces in order to unclog sewers, sweep streets, dry cow dung for fuel, and work with leather, since all other Hindus refuse to work with cow skin. Untouchables routinely die from gas poisoning in the sewers.

But it's not all bad news. It seems that the most violent, and overt forms of caste discrimination have generally disappeared. Untouchables have made some real signs of progress. Before independence in 1947, untouchables were beaten even if their very shadow touched a higher caste person! India's constitution mandates that a certain number of seats in the Indian legislative body be reserved for untouchables. Gandhi, the famous Indian revolutionary and human-rights advocator took up the cause of the untouchables as his own. He renamed them harijan, or, 'people of God.' He also accepted untouchables to his ashram, or communal settlement. This was a huge step in changing deep-seated Indian and Hindu beliefs about how their society should function.

In many respects, the situations of women in China and untouchables in India are very similar. Although discrimination is not as extreme in China, in both cases, antiquated social systems and castes are still used to bar the 'other' from playing a part in society. The huge irony is that both China and India have so much potential for growth and success. They are pioneering new innovations in fields like medicine, engineering, and computer technology, as well as living modern lives. However, these two countries both demonize, shame, and bar others from being able to succeed. This is anathema to morality in every sense of the word. It greatly saddens me that people who call themselves religious would believe that God wants them to rape, throw acid, and spit on other human beings, as happens in India, and decreasingly in China.

Other countries, specifically western democracies, have been called on by some to help the untouchables gain the rights that they deserve in India. Other political commentators argue that we have enough domestic issues to worry about before solving other countries problems. This rings very true. However, as a human being, I feel that I have a moral imperative, and a religious obligation to help those that are suffering at the hands of other human beings. This kind of cruelty, intolerance, and small-mindedness cannot be tolerated in the 21st century. India needs to wake up, and start a new revolution. A revolution of acceptance, tolerance, and love.


O'Neill, Tom. "Untouchable @ National Geographic Magazine." n.d.: 1-31. Untouchable @ National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <>.


Monday, November 5, 2012

First Post! Topic: Women in China, Then and Now

November 5, 2012 
Women in China- Then and Now 

China is world-renowned for the Great Wall, inventing gunpowder, and its delicious Asian cuisine. However, there is something very important going on in China that is seldom discussed, even among historians and scholars. This is the phenomenon of women, their roles and responsibilities, and their overall place in Chinese society. In its vast and rich history, from the Shang dynasty to Chairman Mao’s reign of terror to the present day, China has undergone some serious sociological changes to uproot and ultimately end sexism and discrimination, and gender imbalance. Although the situation is still far from perfect, China is moving in the right direction. But don’t take it from me. Let’s dive right into the history, and see if all this hype is for real.

Throughout the history of ancient China, the family has always been the most important unit of Chinese society, valued above all else. Men were the primary breadwinners, while women did domestic duties, and cared for the children. Women were charged and obligated to uphold their society’s values about their rigid roles as wives and mothers, or else.

For thousands of years, family obligations and life were dictated by the teachings of Confucius, a widely-revered Chinese philosopher and thinker. One major idea of his was filial piety, or in other words, the obligation that children have to always show the utmost respect to their parents. He also set in stone the guidelines that would govern marriage, and the role of women in society in China for thousands of years. In Confucius’s societal framework and ideology, sons were prized more than daughters, because of their physical and economic abilities. The sons would truly be the ones to carry on the family name. In times of famine and war, daughters were the last to be fed. Impoverished families would routinely sell their daughters into slavery to afford food. Another common practice was for girls to tightly bind their feet. They became broken so that and were painfully reduced to stubs. These were, for whatever strange reason, considered erotic. Another reason for binding the feet was that with these stubs, women could only teeter around the house doing domestic chores, and thus, they could not work or get out of the house easily. This was important in order for the man of the house to maintain control, and to make sure that his wife did not rebel. When one became a wife, the woman belonged to her husband’s family. A married girl would often literally work for her mother-in-law for a year or two, before becoming dedicated to her husband. A girl gained respect in her husband’s family’s eyes if she soon gave birth to a boy. However, if it turned out to be a girl; that was acceptable ground for a man to wed another woman. It was perfectly legal and very common for a man to have multiple wives in ancient China.

Apart from their roles as wives and mothers, women really couldn’t do anything else in China. Education for women was not considered important, and therefore, an overwhelming majority of Chinese women never learned how to read or write anything other than their name. Women could not go to university, or take an exam to enter government service. In China, a woman’s role was to about taking care of the house, preparing food, cleaning, looking after children, and looking presentable to their husbands. A small sub-section of peasant women would help their husbands in the fields, but this was extremely rare.

Ever so slowly, the long-held Confucian notions and ideals about women and their place slowly began to fade away. It took a painfully long time, but by the turn of the 19th century, Chinese women were on the threshold of equality, as were so many of their female counterparts around the world. Change was incremental. In 1911, the practice of foot-binding was officially banned. Around this time, polygamy also gradually ceased. However, real progress would only really happen in the middle of the 20th century.

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established. China formally became a communist state. The new government began to radically implement very new ideas in Chinese society, in all spheres, including economic, politic, and social changes. The new communist revolutionaries were bent on destroying ‘the four olds’ – old ideas, habits, customs, and culture. A key part of these changes was the reversal of thousands of years of the subjugation of women. For the first time, the government actively began promoting an egalitarian Chinese society, with expanded roles for women. Gender equality became a value. The Marriage Law of 1950 banned many harsh practices against women, including arranged marriage, the taking of concubines, and child brides. It seemed to work. When the People’s Republic of China was first established, only 7% of all employed people were women. In 1992, women made up 32% of all employed. However, when the dust settled, and the Cultural Revolution was over, it was clear that the Chinese Communists were more intent on centralizing and keeping a grip on power, than they were about gender equality. Women still had an extremely low social status in China, and the one-child policy did not help. This policy required a couple to only have one child, except in very special circumstances. This led to a skyrocketing abortion rate, and female infanticide went through the roof.

However, despite all of these setbacks, change is coming. Illiteracy, once rampant among women, has been falling ever since1980, and education for girls and women is on the rise. Take this figure: In 1980, the average national number of years that women went to school for was a little over 4. That number jumped to 7 years by 2000. Life expentancy is also up. Divorce, once a shameful and taboo evil, is now legal. Women do not need to be trapped in unhappy and/or abusive relationships. This gives them power to control their lives. In 2003, approximately 19% of all marriages ended in divorce. That is 5 times the amount of divorces that took place in1979. With all of the old restrictions and barriers falling away, women in China are now able to take their rightful place on the global stage, and do their part to impact the world in positive way.


"Gender Gaps in China- Facts and Figures." World Bank Group - System Maintenance. N.p., Oct. 2006. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <>.

Abraham, Cara. "Women's Roles in China: Changes Over Time   Tags: China, East Asia, Primary Source World, Primary Sources, Women  ." Home. Primary Source, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <>.

"Daily Life of Women." (household Economics), Ancient China Part B, Ancient Societies. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <>.

Yardley, Jim. "Women in China Embrace Divorce as Stigma Eases." The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Oct. 2005. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <>.