The Elephant and the Veil

One of the things I miss the most about teaching is the conversations we used to have after class. Me and the other teachers would sit around and talk about our lives. One of the tutors, Matt and I would have these long religious discussions that would always leave me in a more enlightened state. Matt majored in Religious Studies at Stanford and I loved hearing his unbiased view on every religion, whether it be Judaism or Hinduism or any other religion. He had and still has a way of drawing on the parallels across religions, in a world where most people stress the differences.

The hours of discussion and debate we had came to mind this weekend when I was trying to make sense of everything that was happening in Mumbai. At first, I was in shock. I found out in the afternoon at work and couldn't really work the rest of the day. I was supposed to meet up with people that night and instead went to a buddy's place that grew up in Mumbai. As I tried to make sense of everything, I remembered a conversation Matt and I had a few years ago. I asked him why he thought religions focus so much on the differences when there are obviously way more similarities. He eloquently answered something like this: "Think of religion as a huge elephant that is running straight ahead. Each of us is holding onto a small part of the elephant. We see and feel the people that have similar views to us because they are next to us. But we can't see the people on the other side of the animal. We have been told and believe that the small space we occupy is the entire animal. We don't take the time to step back and realize we're all going in the same direction." I totally just paraphrased that whole thing, so sorry Matt but your sentiment was very insightful. That was initially how I made sense of extremists in my head. As the dust settled though, the situation because a little more clear. Terrorism really has nothing to do with religion nor does most things we hear about in the news. Everything is about power. There's war going on all over the world. In India, in Africa, and even on the streets in America. Those in power are fighting to keep those under their power in the dark about opportunity, about hope, about truth.

Shamans in Zimbabwe telling men to rape virgin girls to rid themselves of AIDs, the Rwandan genocide, Hindus practicing widow burning in India, and terror cells recruiting displaced youth in the far reaching corners of the Earth all gained power under the guise of religion but really have nothing more to do than men wanting to keep their power over the masses. They use religion as a veil because in most parts of the world people are much less likely to question religious leaders or those posing as religious leaders. The stuff going on in Mumbai really bothered me because I felt like there was nothing I could do about it but the more I thought about it, the more I felt empowered.

I read someone's facebook away message that said something like, "Time for India to step up and take care of business and kick some ass" or something to that extent. After reading that, one line kept playing in my head over the weekend, "You can kill people but you can't kill ideas." We can go after bad people in this world but their ideas will just be carried on by those around them. This is not a war between good people and bad people. This is a war of ideas. The only way we can solve the problems we're facing is to offer hope and opportunity to those in need. Offer the young of the world positive outlets. The people carrying out these missions are young people like you and me. Their entire moral structure and outlook on life is hijacked at a young age by corrupt people around them. They're never given a chance to make something of themselves. They become "evil" and "soul-less" as one victim described them.

I look to places like Kerala as a great example of what India can become someday. I don't know everything about Kerala but from what I've heard the people regardless if they're Muslim or Christian or Hindu have a large sense of pride in their state. The government gives the people opportunity to progress, which has led to one of the highest female literacy rates in the world. Even in Kasargod, where some of my family lives, you have the occasional Hindu-Muslim protest but it never escalates out of control.

I've been thinking about moving to India for years now. Seeing everything that's happened in the last week only strengthens my desire to go there. There are so many countries in this world with so much potential. I happen to be more familiar with India. I've seen the potential that India has and would love help cultivate some of that. It's always been a life goal of mine to make a positive impact on India and I'm hoping the time comes soon.

Yet we can also do our part at home. The other night I heard people talking about how Muslims were behind the attacks. I could tell in their tone of voice that they were trying to generalize across the religion. I could have gone on for a while to them about how Islam is being misused by these people and about how many people believe some ideas expressed in the Quran are symbolic like the war in the Gita. I didn't want to get that crazy but I explained how they were not sure yet who was behind the attacks and to not to generalize across the religion. I think we can all do our part in this war of ideas.

Educate yourself and then the people around you on issues. Have discussions with people that know more than you and then teach people that know less than you. Honestly, this battle is going to continue until we are long gone. While we're here though, I think it's time we not sit idle but lend our hand to bring opportunity to those forgotten in the world, to bring light to those purposely being held captive in the dark, and to do our best to remove the veil placed in front of us. Maybe one day we can realize we're all riding the same elephant together after all.