Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Eid!

Today is one of the two most important Muslim holidays - the Festival of Sacrifice, known internationally by its Arabic name Eid al-Adha, and in Bulgaria by its Turkish name Kurban Bayryam. So, happy Eid to all who celebrate!

Some time ago, Highlander wrote a post wishing that, as Muslims like her remember other people's holidays and greet them, other people would do the same. I think she is right. Indeed, I do not feel a need to write special posts congratulating Eid, because I do not do it for Christmas, either (I only send e-mails to relatives, friends and colleagues). I just happen to have an Eid-related post, and unfortunately it is not as pleasant as I hope the holiday will be.

After human populations first disseminated, diverged, and then remixed, there is no escape of diversity. And, to say the inconvenient truth, it is a burden. I am not saying that we must destroy diversity - it should be accepted in most cases, but accepted as the liability it is. Mistaking a liability for an asset is a recipe for disaster, and not just in economic life. This is why most people of all cultures equally resent multiculturalism. By insisting that diversity is a blessing, multiculturalists make an assertion that contradicts the everyday experience of everybody and so make fools of themselves.

My worst multiculti-related problem was three or four years ago, when I had practicals with a group of Turkish students on Friday from 11.30 to 13.00. I rarely had more than half of the group in the lab, because, as they said, they had to go to the mosque and pray. Because practicals are mandatory, it was quite difficult to me to finish the semester successfully. To be honest, I also felt uncomfortable trying to teach young people to whom, by their own admission, prayer was more important than study - I thought we all were just wasting our time. Incidentally, the next semester this group had its biology practical on Monday, but the attendance rate did not improve. Students are first-class swindlers, an older colleague of mine often says, meaning students like these. And I bet that the same people who (ab)use their religion as an excuse to indulge in laziness will be the first to accuse others in Islamophobia.

The Eids are days when you cannot realistically - and should not - expect attendance by Muslim students. However, while Bulgarian Muslims leave just for a day or two, the foreign students disappear for at least a week, and then we must think how to compensate. Anyway. So, when on Oct. 11 a group of Muslim students from different countries said they would not be here next week because of Eid, I said OK, we'll have a longer practical in two weeks, and they agreed. Because Eids are determined based on the lunar calendar, their dates change every year, and I had no idea about when the Eid would take place.

The popular Gloria Gaynor's song I will survive says that you stay alive as long as you know how to love. This can be extended far beyond erotic love: your soul is alive as long as you meet your fellow humans with trust and goodwill triumphing over experience. Unfortunately, interactions with people too often bring experiences that, as Bulgarians say, "ubivat vsichko detsko v nas" (kill our inner child - actually, our inner human). However, even when we are brought to the point of treating others with suspicion, we are still obliged to show the appearence of trust because good manners require it. So I resisted my first knee-jerk impulse to leave the lab, go to my room and make a quick Web search about the date of Eid.

I did this search five minutes later, when the practical was over. And I found that Eid al-Adha in 2012 would be on Oct. 26, that is, not in the week of Oct. 15-19 for which my students had asked a permission to be away, but in the next week when they had promised to come. In other words, they had just arranged a nice 2-week vacation in the midst of a semester, "by permission" of their teacher, at least as far as biology was concerned.

I tried to find them in the cafes around, but they had left the area. Next day, I went to their lecture, but only one student from the group was there, and she seemed not to understand me. Several hours later, I managed at last to find the group - at a cytology practical. I said I had checked the date of Eid and I was very angry. They apologized and said they had make a mistake about the date and they were about to call me to correct it. I openly said that I don't believe Muslims could mistake the date of Eid, but let's leave this alone, I am expecting them all the next week. And they came.

Maybe it had been a misunderstanding after all? I hope so; I generally like this group. And, as a teacher, I must blame myself for not checking the date beforehand. Let this be, as we say, an earring on my ear - i.e. a good lesson for me. As soon as I am supplied with a calendar for 2013, I intend to find out when the Eids are and to highlight their dates on the calendar with a thick, red, permanent marker, to avoid similar situations in the future.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Anti-blasphemy laws create monsters: case report from Pakistan

This post is to illustrate the inevitable consequences of anti-blasphemy laws and other violations of free speech allowing authorities and vigilantes to silence people by force. I learned about the Pakistani girl's story from the Mogilino blog, to which I am redirecting Bulgarian readers. In this disability advocacy blog, activists published an open letter urging Bulgarian government institutions to stand publicly in defence of a young disabled girl threatened by a harsh sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. Below, I am copy-pasting media reports.

"Girl held in Pakistan, accused of burning Quran pages
By Katie Hunt and Nasir Habib, CNN
Mon August 20, 2012
An 11-year-old Christian girl has been arrested after being accused of blasphemy by burning pages of the Quran in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
According to a statement released by the president's office Sunday, the girl, identified as Ramsha, was accused by a local resident of burning pages of the Muslim holy text after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking.
Local media reports said the girl has Down syndrome. CNN was unable to confirm these reports, and a local police official said they are not true.
Qasim Niazi, the police officer in charge of the station near where the incident took place, said the girl does not have a mental disorder but is illiterate and has not attended school.
The accused girl had told him she had no idea there were pages of the Quran inside the documents she burned, he added.
Niazi said that 150 people had gathered on Friday where the neighborhood's Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses.
"The mob wanted to burn the girl to give her a lesson," he told CNN.
Other Christian families living in the area have fled fearing a backlash, he added..."

BBC News, 8 September 2012
A Christian girl in Pakistan who was arrested on blasphemy charges has been released from prison in Rawalpindi, a minister has said.
On Friday a judge ordered her release and set bail at about $10,500 (£6,200).
The girl, thought to be 14 years old but with a younger mental age, was arrested last month after a mob accused her of burning pages of the Koran.
Last week an imam was remanded in custody, accused of planting burned pages of the Koran in the girl's bag.
The case against the girl, known as Rimsha, has sparked international alarm and has been condemned by human rights groups.
Blasphemy is not a bailable offence but her lawyers pleaded that she was a juvenile.
The girl's lawyer said she had been released after two guarantors posted a bond against assurances that she would reappear in court, the AFP news agency said.
Pakistan's minister for national harmony said the girl was transported by helicopter to a safe location where she was met by her family.
Her father had previously said he feared for his daughter's life and for the safety of his family.
Rimsha's parents were taken into protective custody at an undisclosed location following threats. Many other Christian families fled the neighbourhood after her arrest.
Rights activists have long urged Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws, under which a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Koran.
In March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, was killed after calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.
His death came just two months after the murder of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who also spoke out about the issue.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97% of the population are Muslim.
In the past accusations of blasphemy have led to vigilante killings by mobs."

I don't think these reports need any comments, just wish to mention that the otherwise fine BBC report is marred by a misleading, politically correct and factually incorrect title. Had I read only the title, I would think that the girl has been released unconditionally and has no more troubles with the law.