Do Scholars have a social responsibility?

The amount of b&%* shit that I see in the ‘public domain’ on a regular basis makes me want to cry. Really.I am researching Islam in the U.S. and one can only imagine the amount of non-sense that there is, out there, along with genuine, credible scholarship. I would hazard a guess that at least half of the stuff on internet, about Islam is wrong or misleading information. That is another story, but in this piece, I want to focus on what responsibility scholars have, if any, to correct this anomaly.

Take the story of the Pythagoras theorem being an Indian invention or that Indians inventing flying and that they had airplanes over 7000 years ago. Absurd? Well, for some, in the hallowed corridors of power, in India, this is the ‘truth’, as absurd or illogical as it sounds. And there are well-meaning people who will point out that this is part of making India a ‘great nation’. What? A great nation, based on falsehoods and myth? One cannot build self-esteem by claiming thing that one has not done or by outright falsifying history.

Photo courtesy: beautifultrouble.org
Photo courtesy: beautifultrouble.org

To be clear, my beef is not with Indian culture. I love my country of birth and have no issues with my ‘identity’. I am very secure in who I am and have a lot of affection for my people and our ways of life. Thankfully, my identity is fully formed, despite having moved around, a few times. I do not place myself in the category of the self-hating Indian who wants to diss on Indian culture, while extolling the ‘West’. The West has as many problems as the East and we can talk about this till the cows come home. That is not the point.

My problem is with this self-congratulatory attitude of attributing all good exists in the world to some Indian scientist or mathematician . The same sort of myth making is at place here that exists when one speaks of the Israel/ Palestine conflict, an issue I am intimately familiar with, having studied it during my MA in International Affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I do believe, on the contrary that tradition is important, culture is valuable and that we should draw inspiration from our past. But how do we do that?

Let’s first start with the question: Do scholars have a social responsibility? I have been thinking about this for a while, as I prepare to enter the hallowed field of the American academy. I must admit, I have been incredibly lucky to have worked with, studied and spent a great deal of time with some world-class scholars, who have contributed to the study of American society, religion, nonprofit management, international relations etc. in the past four years and have nothing but enormous respect for the time, energy and dedication that they bring to their work. But the question remains: beyond the three core responsibilities of – teaching, service and research, do University professors /scholars have a broader social responsibility? When debates of race, religion and war and peace come up, are academics supposed to provide only their ‘scholarly opinion’, i.e., specialist knowledge and not ‘take sides’ or actively jump into the fray and help the lay man make up his/her mind? Not an easy answer, that one.

In a debate of this sort, there are several large and small-scale issues involved. I list just three here,

  1. The State’s legitimizing of certain forms of knowledge
  2. Scholars own careerism and search for legitimacy
  3. What counts as ‘knowledge’

Each of these is a configuration and does not stand on its own. What the ‘state’ apparatus denotes as ‘valid knowledge’ is key. Think of the times of war and peace, when propaganda becomes ‘truth’ and all versions of truth that do not match up to this are considered ‘lies’. McCarthyism and Bush era propaganda are enough proof to show anyone that this has happened in the past, and will occur in the future. Sometimes, scholars get too cozy with the powerful, especially if they legitimize one’s knowledge. Think of Francis Fukuyama, Bernard Lewis, in the recent past and their relationship with the Bush administration. They have been discredited in part because of the policies of the government, but they also gained legitimacy and power through the regime, when their ideas were being converted to policies and these policies were being implemented. A more recent instance of blowback is that of John Yoo, who wrote the torture memos, for the Bush administration.

For a more theoretical and nuanced take on this, see Michel Foucault, here.

As the article points out, power and knowledge are not seen independently but linked – knowledge is an exercise of power and a ‘function of knowledge.’ Further:

Perhaps his most famous example of a practice of power/knowledge is that of the confession, as outlined in History of Sexuality. Once solely a practice of the Christian Church, Foucault argues that it became diffused into secular culture (and especially psychology) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Through the confession (a form of power) people were incited to “tell the truth” (produce knowledge) about their sexual desires, emotions, and dispositions. For example, in The History of Sexuality, Foucault argued that a new discourse of “sexuality” had fundamentally changed the way we think about desire, pleasure, and our innermost selves. In Foucault’s argument, discourses about sexuality did not discover some pre-existing, core truth about human identity, but rather created it through particular practices of power/knowledge.”

Applying this to any form of knowledge production, one can see how a ‘regime of truth’ produces the kind of knowledge necessary.

So, in the case of India’s glorious past or that of Israel being the ‘promised land’, power/knowledge do come together to create myths and ideas that legitimize state policy. As the ‘New Historians’ in Israel Israel’s Ilan pappe and Benny Morris have shown, Palestinians did not ‘voluntarily’ leave the region, but were forced out in 1948 and the years following. Many of the myths held by Israelis as ‘truths’ have been debunked, with recent scholarship by these two scholars. Then there is Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of Israel

As this Guardian article points out:

“In 2009, Shlomo Sand published The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he claimed that Jews have little in common with each other. They had no common “ethnic” lineage owing to the high level of conversion in antiquity. They had no common language, since Hebrew was used only for prayer and was not even spoken at the time of Jesus. Yiddish was, at most, the language of Ashkenazi Jews. So what is left to unite them? Religion? But religion does not make a people – think of Muslims and Catholics. And most Jews are not religious. Zionism? But that is a political position: one can be a Scot and not a Scottish nationalist. Besides, the majority of Jews, including many Zionists, have not the slightest intention of going “back” to the Holy Land, much preferring, and who can blame them, to stay put in north London, or Brooklyn or wherever. In other words, “Jewish People” is a political construct, an invention.”

Myths, truths and half-truths

Then there are articles such as these that speak of airplanes in ancient India that went from one country to another. Myth and facts don’t seem to be separated in any of these accounts. While fantasy, myth and the like have a role to play in life, I think we cannot base the teaching of history on these ideas. The article, in a prominent Indian magazine says “Aeroplanes existed in India 7,000 years ago and they travelled from one country to another and from one planet to another, the Indian Science Congress was told today in a controversial lecture that examined ancient aviation technology in the Vedas. The hosting of the lecture, presented by Captain Anand J Bodas, a retired principal of a pilot training facility, had recently attracted criticism from some scientists who said it undermined the primacy of empirical evidence on which the 102-year-old Congress was founded.”

Where does myth end and facts begin? For the faithful, doubt has no place in mind. Blind-faith in any ideology can be harmful – be it nationalism, religion or science. In this case, Indian nationalism is being revived with utmost force and I am guessing the consequences are not going to be good. Each time this has occurred, there has been a war or a mass murder. Think of the partition of India, Wars with Pakistan, China and of course the countless ‘communal riots’ that take place in India, on a regular basis – that pit the Hindus and Muslims each as a ‘nation’, fighting it out. It looks like some people never learn their history right. And if they do, they do it in a way that boosts their own self-image and ego.

Scholars such as Shlomo Sand, Edward Said, Michel Foucault have all challenged, questioned the existing discourses of power that have legitimated certain forms of ‘knowledge’ as being true. Countless others continue to do so, in the academy and through their writings. Teaching of history, arts and social sciences is inherently a political exercise and one can take ‘sides’, while being honest about it. But I argue, what one should not and cannot do, is to be so blind to facts and one’s own biases. One cannot  blindly follow the path that legitimizes one’s world-view without seeking out alternative modes of reality, or reality, or peddling one’s own ideology as the ‘truth’.

To sum up, here is my take on whether scholars have a social responsibility. In short: Yes. They do. They do, because they are ‘powerful’ in that they have invested a lot of time, energy and money to acquire knowledge that is not accessible to all. They also have the power to legitimate a discourse. To misuse this power, either for personal gain or for gaining others favors is not only irresponsible, but also unethical. To ensure that one acts responsibly and ethically is the greatest responsibility that a scholar has. And this, I believe will be the test of true scholarship. Scholars are supposed to produce good, credible knowledge that advances our knowledge of the world, or questions injustice. Everything else is irrelevant.

Why Gandhi is Relevant in 2014

Indians around the world celebrated Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2, his birth anniversary. It is a solemn day, often marked by social gatherings, politicians saying something banal about Gandhi’s life and legacy and talk-show hosts debating his life. While the question whether Gandhi’s life lessons are relevant is taken seriously by few, a vast majority seem to have created a myth around the Mahatma’s life and are happy to live by platitudes. I believe there is an urgent need to look at Gandhi’s life and the lessons he offered us.

Nehru_with_Gandhi_1942-Churchill Firstly, Gandhi’s life is a testament to the struggles that oppressed people have to go through to achieve freedom. Gandhi’s entire life can be seen as a struggle and his life, an example in sacrifice. As Arthur Herman writes in Gandhi and Churchill – The epic rivalry that destroyed an empire and forged our age, Gandhi had undergone a spiritual transformation in the decades he had spent in South Africa and had found his life mission. This mission was to ‘transform the character of his fellow Indians by bringing them closer to God.’ “By doing so, he intended to undercut the foundations of British rule in India and set his people free.” (p.215). Gandhi’s life mission was rooted in self-transformation and transformation of society at large, missions that most ‘value driven’ organizations and institutions espouse and aspire to.

Secondly, the techniques that Gandhi promoted – Satyagraha being the key one – is still being used by nonviolence activists around the world, from the U.S. to Palestine. As a model of resistance, nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation are tactics that forced the British Empire to the negotiating table, more than once. Time and again, Gandhi deployed this tactic, both in South Africa and in India and despite some failures, it did succeed. In a situation where a powerless people are faced with a majority, that is armed, mighty and powerful, passive resistance did prove useful. Whether it was fighting for the miners rights in Johannesburg in 1908 or for self-rule or Swaraj years later, in India – similar tactics were in play. Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian activist seems to have been using Gandhis’ methods for years now. Martin Luther King in the U.S. considered himself a protégé of Gandhi’s methods.

Thirdly, with globalization, increasing consumerism and a general increase in materialism in India, perhaps it is time for Gandhi’s message to make a comeback. While economically, the Mahatma proposed self-rule and self-reliance, it may be next to impossible to roll back the Neoliberal framework that came into play in the 1990s, with the opening of India’s economy.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Gandhi made to the Indian ethos is that of embracing pluralism and rejecting casteism. As a self-conscious Hindu, he practiced his religion throughout his life, but was against caste and its de-humanizing influence on the Indian mind. An anecdote that Herman quotes in his book is relevant here. In 1916, Gandhi took in an untouchable family at the Sabarmati Ashram. As Herman says, this set off a domestic pitched battle, with Kasturba threatening to leave immediately. “However, Gandhi’s will prevailed. He had deliberately broken the greatest Hindu taboo of all, the prohibition against any contact with dalits or untouchables. It was part of his war against the India he detested most: the India hidebound by ceremony and meaningless tradition split by ancient religious feuds, festering in its own filth, the India without compassion or pity.” (p.221).

While Indians are justifiably proud of the progress that the country has made since 1947, much remains to be accomplished – not only in economic and monetary terms, but also in terms of achieving basic dignity for the poor and oppressed. While there is growing pride in India’s ascent on the global stage, this must be tempered with a realization that India is also home to the world’s largest number of poor people. A mission to Mars may have demonstrated to the world that India is home to capable Engineers, Scientists and technocrats, but facts such as the above demonstrate that India has a long way to go before being truly a ‘regional power’, much less a ‘super-power’. India is the inheritor of a great civilization, hat has contributed much to the world, but also has a lot to learn from the rest of the world. Recent attempts to vilify Gandhi and his life are a danger not only to India’s legacy but are also part of a campaign to distort Indian history. For sure, Gandhi was not a perfect human being, nor was his life perfect by any means. Nevertheless, his life and message were a moral force that moved millions. While we must not fall into the trap of worshipping our leaders uncritically – something that most contemporary Indians seem to be doing – we must, at the same time embrace the best that our tradition has to offer. Towards this, Gandhi’s life lessons are exemplars that can be emulated.

Two visions of India ?

Having spent my teen years in post-economic liberalization India of the 1990s’, I have seen the growth and transformation of my home-country over the last two decades. My hometown of Bangalore transformed from a sleepy ‘pensioner’s paradise’, as it was known to become a booming ‘Silicon Valley’ of India. All in a matter of less than twenty years or so. While this has brought obvious benefits, in terms of increased infrastructure, better access to technology and the tangible benefits of Capitalism, the other effects, in terms of societal embedding of markets is less obvious. There have been other negative impacts of this massive growth as well – with increased inequality, exploitation of natural and human resources. Indian voters hold up their voter ID car

While astronomical growth rates of 10 percent GDP are long over, there is still hope and aspiration among Indians, who are seemingly ‘tired’ of the ‘corruption’ of the Congress led UPA government, led by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the man who ushered in the economic reforms, that transformed the economy. I will briefly examine the claims made by the Congress Party and the BJP, in terms of their ‘inclusive development’ mandate and analyze how either party is likely to treat the poor, vulnerable and other minorities in a country, that has, in some measures become the standard-bearer for democratic governance in the ‘developing world’. While many of these arguments are normative, I believe that politics is ultimately about ‘vision’ and not merely about technocracy. While bureaucrats and public servants execute this vision, it is up to the leaders, who are elected, to craft this vision and present it before the people, who may or may not buy into it. Let us briefly turn to the upcoming national elections in May 2014. There are, I would argue, two visions of India before us, represented by the two largest national parties. Arguably, there is not a whole lot of difference in terms of their economic policies, and the only perceptible difference seems to be in their social vision, of what kind of a India they foresee. While the AAP Party and regional parties are definitely a part of the plurality of Indian democratic system, they do not have a national mandate and influence.

Much is being written about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prime Ministerial Candidate, Narendra Modi, who is the current Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat. As a front-runner to the Prime Minster’s post, his personal and professional life has come under scrutiny, as is the case with any candidate, running for the national position, in the world’s largest democracy. While his supporters swear by his ability to ‘turn-around’ the economy of Gujarat and claim that he will bring about the same ‘business acumen’ to governance, larger questions about inclusion, model of governance and growth remain unexamined. While there is much rhetoric among both sides, there seems to be an overemphasis on one or the other aspect – the Gujarat riots of 2002 being argued as one of the most egregious examples of his lack of leadership. This discourse is again, one that questions the leaders ‘vision’ of leading a country.

As Dr. Abusaleh Sharief, a prominent Economist and member of the Prime Minster Manmohan Singh’s advisory team on minority affairs argues about post-Independence India’s growth and how it impacted the poor and minorities: “ During this phase of governance and development, marginalized groups had little knowledge as to the relative position they occupied in the complex web of diversity amongst the population which was explicit in terms of the caste, ethnicity and religion in India. During the early period after the Independence, the overall governance and bureaucratic structure was heavily represented by highly educated upper caste Hindus and the welfare schemes and poverty alleviation programs were in the league of pilot projects or at the most in the genre of relief programs. It is now a recorded history, however, that socialistic pattern of economic policy did not facilitate fast pace of economic growth rather it was characteristic of rigid state control and bureaucratic overbearing.”Dr. Sharief further says that there is differential in the way that communities have progressed, based on their geographical location. He says: “ There is a sort of double whammy faced by deprived groups and further the depth of deprivation and exploitation emerges from other factors such as occupational and work related exploitation, child labor and gender bias. Therefore to understand mechanism to address deprivations amongst the SCs/ STs and Muslims it is essential to lay bare all such dimensions which are a type of whirlpool or a sort of trap from which those affected have to be rescued and rehabilitated not only on the basis of empathy but with the aim of empowering whole communities so that they make their rightful claim of equal citizens of India.” Further, since the senior positions of administration are dominated by the upper caste, those in the lower levels of the caste ladder have serious educational and skill-set dis-advantage. He adds that it is important to mainstream equity, inclusion and ‘increase the pie’ that is available to be shared.  This election is being fought on issues of social equity, corruption and related matters – something that needs to be kept in mind. While Dr. Sharief and even Amartya Sen seem to be advocates of the Neoliberal framework – albeit with some constraints – there are other experts who have seriously questioned the wisdom of pursuing this growth agenda.

Congress and BJP’s development promises: A brief look at the election manifestos

Let us take a brief look at what each party has promised in its election platform for 2014. While the Congress party has stuck to its founding principles as an ‘all inclusive’ party, that brings together the masses and offers a pluralistic vision of India. The manifesto begins with “Our central values resonate the very idea of India that has come to us over the centuries, an India that rejoices in and celebrates its many diversities, and builds on these diversities to strengthen the bonds of unity through secularism, pluralism, inclusion and social justice. This is the India that Mahatma Gandhi envisaged.” While it brags about the Green Revolution, White Revolution and various other schemes launched by the Congress Party through its governance tools, it fails to acknowledge the scale of corruption that shook the government in the recent past. While corruption has been a part of Indian politics and there are even arguments made by scholars that corruption, contrary to popular belief, may be good for a developing economy, it has come to haunt the party; as it seeks to come back to power. Its 15 point program for development seems ambitious and progressive – including promises of increasing expenditure on education, women’s empowerment, encouragement of entrepreneurship among other items.

On the other hand, BJP’s manifesto is based on attacking the UPA performance over the past few years. While there is clearly an ideological orientation in its manifesto, presenting India as ‘One civilization’, while it is clearly not the case; with influx of various cultures, religions, over the centuries; and a plurality, that the BJP does not acknowledge, this is as high in rhetoric as is the Congress Party’s manifesto. Some of the contentious issues that go against its claim of a ‘united India’ are the party’s insistence on pursuing the Ram Temple agenda that has been at the heart of the party’s rise to power – an extremely divisive and religiously divisive agenda. How the party reconciles this with its vision of ‘unity’ remains questionable.

It is interesting to see that both the parties accept the status quo of market-led reforms, with neither of them questioning the international trade flows, capital flows and other macro-economic aspects of how Indian economy is structured and how it impacts the common man, on a day to day basis. This seems to be off the table, for obvious reasons. Neither party wants to question the consumption habits of the 300 million plus strong middle class.

In conclusion, one can argue that no matter who comes to power at the center, problems of corruption, lack of opportunities and lack of law and order in some parts of the country will not disappear. The rhetoric of ‘clean-governance’ by Mr. Modi seems to be just that, as his government is also accused of favoring business houses and has relied on cronyism as much as the Congress. Further, as Ram Guha, historian and popular commenter says in this interview, the tide is turning in BJP’s favor because of the disgust Indians feel towards the Congress, that has not ‘delivered’ on the promises it made. He says “But there’s such an air of disgust with the present government, so people are willing to overlook his angularities because he can’t be worse than what’s come before.  The culture of democracy has been advanced, admittedly in an ugly way, by social media, [and by] expressing opinions freely through street protests and institutions of democracy such as state legislatures and courts.” Speaking of the youth and their lack of enchantment with Rahul Gandhi, he says “But that doesn’t mean though that they are enchanted by Modi. Some will go with regional parties, or AAP. In large sections of the country, the BJP has no presence at all.” Finally, one may look at the notion of ‘development as freedom’ that Amartya Sen, India’s most celebrated economist has argued for. His is an inclusive agenda for development and this is clearly articulated in his book Development as Freedom, where he makes a case for equating development to personal freedom. Unless people are able to pursue what they want, and are able to succeed, within some measures; they are not truly free, Sen points out. He is an advocate for both the processes that would bring about freedom and also the actual result of increasing freedoms. In democratic lingo, this would be a call for both procedural and substantive freedoms. He points to notions of development and their direct relevance to freedom – that of the growth of democracy and drop in famines in a country, as an example. So the question then becomes : Which party or group of leaders are able to provide this element of societal and economic freedom to all Indians? Irresepctive of the complex relations of power, caste, hierarchy and corruption; the party that gives this to the Indian people deserves to be the one that governs for the next five years.

 

 

 

Do We Need a New Civil Rights Movement for Religion?

 

As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, it is relevant to ask: Has religion taken the place of race in American society? What I mean by this is whether the taboos and other aspects associated with race in the 1960s and earlier have started to be associated with religion. While Dr. King and his contemporaries, most notably Malcolm X framed the civil rights discourse and used racial equality as a tool to achieve rights for the dispossessed, their discourse was infused with religious tone. While there has been a civil rights movement to include people of all races, there hasn’t been one for religious inclusion in the U.S. As several civil rights activists have pointed out, do we need a ‘new civil rights movement’ for this purpose?

Legacy of Dr. King, Malcolm X civil-rights

The simmering discontent that existed for decades before the civil rights movement burst into the scene and culminated in The Civil Rights Act of 1964, that ended the ‘Jim Crow Laws,’ and set in place new laws that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion or national origin. Two key figures who shaped much of the discourse around these issues in the 1960s were Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X. While Malcolm X’s legacy is seen largely as one of segregationist, this is a misinformed reading, as later on in his career, he moved strongly towards a civil rights approach and this ultimately led to his expulsion from the Nation of Islam, as I have written about this in my earlier post here.

            While both these leaders were at odds, with Malcom X calling for stronger segregation (at least in his earlier career) and painting Dr. King and others who sought integration as ‘house niggers,’ a term he used to define those who were bought over by the white man, he changed his views later on to become more inclusive. Dr. King on the other hand was an integrationist, and believed in the model following that set forth by Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (who became a nonviolent advocate only later on in his career). The goals of both these leaders were the same – equal rights for all and opportunity, irrespective of race. It is interesting to see how religion played a role in each individual’s life. Gandhi was a devout Hindu, and Dr. King was a Baptist minister while Malcolm X became a follower of Nation of Islam and later on, mainstream Sunni Islam.

 

Photo credit : NPR.org
Photo credit : NPR.org

The landscape of religion in the U.S.

Scholars of Sociology of Religion point out that the religious landscape in the U.S. is changing. And changing drastically. With the demographic shifts in the country, led lower birth rates among whites and other immigration related changes, Hispanic and Asian population is expected to rise and by 2050, the racial profile of the U.S. will look very different from what it is today. This is a fear that has been magnified by right-wing and fear-mongering groups to stoke up anti-immigration and anti-minority feelings both in Europe and the U.S. This is also leading to a change in the number of adherents of the more conservative American forms of Christianity, as this article points out how Evangelical Christianity is giving way to Catholicism.

This shift is also having a predictable reaction with the conservative camp clamping down on ‘progressive’ ideas. As this article points out about the recent changes in Arizona, : “The New Civil Rights Movement reported last year, the bill could also be considered the religious version of a “Stand Your Ground” law, allowing anyone’s practice or observance of religion to be an automatic “out.” In other words, it would give Arizona residents and businesses the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason, including because they are LGBT.” While the progressive movement is taking hold in the U.S. there has also been an equal push by the conservatives, led by the G.O.P., to oppose marriage equality, LGBT rights and other progressive agendas. malcolm-x-1

The gradual shift in the religious landscape is noticeable among the ‘new religions’ that have come into the U.S. (at least into the American public consciousness) – The Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, as analyzed by Robert Wuthnow, Princeton Sociologist of Religion. He points out that these new entrants face a new challenge – that of being unknown in the country – and calls for greater dialogue and interaction between the majority Christians and these ‘new immigrant’ religions. This narrative places the ‘emergence’ of the new religions in a post 1965 context, where looser immigration policies made it possible for greater number of people from Asia and Middle East to enter and live in the U.S.

            While there is no doubt that the number of people of these religions is rising, the amount of knowledge about them is not increasing proportionately. There is evidence to point out that ignorance, bigotry and discrimination against minorities in the U.S. is on the rise. Growing Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and fear of other minorities is a fact of life in the U.S. despite the best intentions and efforts by activists and educators. As these FBI crime rate statistics point out, the majority of the hate crimes reported have been against Jews.  As the report points out, race still is a dominant theme when it comes to hatred and attacks related to them. In summary, the report points out:

An analysis of data for victims of single-bias hate crime incidents showed that:

  • 48.5 percent of the victims were targeted because of the offender’s bias against a race.
  • 19.2 percent were targeted because of a bias against a particular sexual orientation.
  • 18.7 percent were victimized because of a bias against a religious belief.
  • 12.1 percent were victimized because of a bias against an ethnicity/national origin.
  • 1.4 percent were targeted because of a bias against a disability. (Based on Table 1

 

As Dr. Carl Ernst points out in this introduction to a book on Islamophobia in the U.S., the various trends in Islamophobia can be seen as part of the ‘othering’ of Muslims, similar to other groups such as Catholics, Jews, Mormons. As opinion polls show, over 50 percent people in the U.S. have a negative view of Islam in 2011, as compared to a lesser number in years preceding 2001. The phenomenon of Islamophobia can be understood in the context of political discourse, he seems to be pointing out, with examples of the Park 51 project and the burning of the Qur’an controversy both becoming salient in 2010, an election year. This is not a surprising fact, as this pattern seems to occur in other democracies as well- India being the most egregious example.

 

Finally, there seems to be the need for a new revolution for greater understanding of religion in the U.S. While there is a trend among certain sections of society to shun religion altogether, this is an impractical and impossible strategy, given how religiously observant Americans are. As Jonathan Benthall, the scholar of religion has pointed out “You may throw religion out the door, but it comes back flying through the window.” Religion is here to stay and we better make peace with it. And as in the case of the civil rights movement and many other movements before it; religion has made a positive contribution to make to society.