Friday, February 27, 2009

Camping in Murramarang National Park...

This place is hard to edit with pictures ...while I'm writing I can't tell where the pictures will be positioned! One is the campsite with free roaming wallabies, and the other is jet skiing nearby. The wallabies were cute, furry and playful, and the jet skiing was an adrenalin rush totally worth the fortune we spent on it. Although my thighs hurt for the following two days! Right after jet skiing we went kayaking, which also was a great experience with the beautiful sights and sounds. However, the break in the middle of the lake with home made muffins and juice provided by the guide resulted in a (mis)adventure that made the trip unforgettable, more so for others, as I am pretty used to such antics myself. Thanks to the long day, and the juice, on the return trip from Kayaking, just after sunset, nature called with urgency, and I just could not continue pedaling, so I tried getting off the kayak to take a quick dip, but ended up capsizing. For me it was just another dip in the water, and boy was I relieved! But I got to hear a lot of lectures on the stupidity of the act and the dangers involved etc. etc. and all I had to say was that, when nature calls, Murtaza responds :P. Other highlights of the trip included several dips in the cold water at the beach, prawning in the lake at night with torch lights and cookouts. Also, not to be forgotten was the ride to and from in an 8 seater van singing and dancing on the way.

Text of Steve Jobs' Commencement address (2005)

Text of Steve Jobs' Commencement address (2005)

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Things people notice and remember ...

In an attempt to rejuvenate this blog, I did a bit of marketing, as readership is an essential motivating factor for writing. Ofcourse that was not the intention when I first started it years ago.

On another blogging site that I started before this one I wrote, and I quote,

"...why am i here...coz i'm impressed by some of the serious bloggers...maybe someday...i'll make it big and these will make up my biography...i'm too modest to write it myself :P ...there goes my claim to modesty...i wonder if i'll be able to keep up with this...i'll try..."

Hehe, can't believe I just quoted myself, I'm flattering myself!

Anyhow, I have strayed off the topic, infact I never got to it!

The motivation for this post was that a very good friend visited the blog as a result of the aforementioned marketing and pointed out that there was no mention of the adventures we've had in the recent past. My excuse as usual, was that this blog has been neglected for quite a while and I'm still trying to catch up, to maintain some chronological order.

Coming to the exact reason for the topic, we had gone camping, I'll do a detailed post hopefully with pictures on that, but after about a month, as the trip randomly came up thanks to the conversation about the blog, he narrates the following story that I had no recollection of ...

On the said camping trip, we went kayaking in a river/lake, I have a terrible memory, that was quite close to the ocean and in time of flooding formed a connection that allowed mixing/exchange of water. So, the question came up, whether the lake was sweet water or salty, and instinctively I put my hand in the water and tasted some, and answered what I thought it tasted like. Again, thanks to the wonderful memory, I don't remember the answer. But, the point is, what to me was an instinctive reaction, soon forgotten could form such an impression on someone else is, I think, scary!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An old but still very relevant article...

Uri Avnery

Muhammad's Sword


Since the days when Roman Emperors threw Christians to the lions, the relations between the emperors and the heads of the church have undergone many changes.

Constantine the Great, who became Emperor in the year 306 - exactly 1700 years ago - encouraged the practice of Christianity in the empire, which included Palestine. Centuries later, the church split into an Eastern (Orthodox) and a Western (Catholic) part. In the West, the Bishop of Rome, who acquired the title of Pope, demanded that the Emperor accept his superiority.

The struggle between the Emperors and the Popes played a central role in European history and divided the peoples. It knew ups and downs. Some Emperors dismissed or expelled a Pope, some Popes dismissed or excommunicated an Emperor. One of the Emperors, Henry IV, "walked to Canossa", standing for three days barefoot in the snow in front of the Pope's castle, until the Pope deigned to annul his excommunication.

But there were times when Emperors and Popes lived in peace with each other. We are witnessing such a period today. Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".

IN HIS lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah.

As a Jewish atheist, I do not intend to enter the fray of this debate. It is much beyond my humble abilities to understand the logic of the Pope. But I cannot overlook one passage, which concerns me too, as an Israeli living near the fault-line of this "war of civilizations".

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted - of all people - a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had - or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) - with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

These words give rise to three questions: (a) Why did the Emperor say them? (b) Are they true? (c) Why did the present Pope quote them?

WHEN MANUEL II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube. They had conquered Bulgaria and the north of Greece, and had twice defeated relieving armies sent by Europe to save the Eastern Empire. On May 29, 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

IS THERE any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith".

How can one ignore such an unequivocal statement? The Pope simply argues that this commandment was laid down by the prophet when he was at the beginning of his career, still weak and powerless, but that later on he ordered the use of the sword in the service of the faith. Such an order does not exist in the Qur'an. True, Muhammad called for the use of the sword in his war against opposing tribes - Christian, Jewish and others - in Arabia, when he was building his state. But that was a political act, not a religious one; basically a fight for territory, not for the spreading of the faith.

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences?

I love google!

Yes, I really do. I don't know how I would have graduated without it. Or still be in Grad school! Or get around the US and Australia, and stare at my rooftop and trace the route home when i miss Karachi!
To top it all off, this right here also belongs to google, and I could actually make money off it!
Plus it's genius. It gives me suggestions when I'm searching and don't know how to spell or don't know the full name. Even the ads! My previous post was about Kenya and Australia and being in college, and all the ads were either travel websites or colleges! Blows my mind! I wish I could come up with something remotely useful!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

lets get over the catchup....

So, I've been in Australia for over 7 months now. College life wasn't as active as I had hoped, me being lazy and the long commute from my sister's place. The studies however went quite well and I finished with a distinction average.
Been on vacation almost 4 months now. Another 2 weeks for semester to start. Geeky as it may sound, I'm actually looking forward to it!
Went to Kenya for Ashara (10 Days of Muharram, first month of the Islamic calendar, where we remember and mourn the sacrifices of Imam Hussain in Karbala, Iraq).
Apart from he religious stuff, Kenya is a beautiful place. Was staying at a beach resort, with white sandy beaches, coral reefs, and clean blue waters. Add to that a nice hot summer. Perfect! The only thing missing was some good company ;). But I'm not the one to be complaining. Went snorkeling, a one day safari with random people and shopping in the city. Met up with friends from the U.S. Made some new ones. Had a great time. Too lazy to put pictures here.