Pseudoscience & Religion

Bollywood Sensibility ? – Part 2. A Different Khan

Shah Rukh Khan was one of my favorite Bollywood stars, growing up in the 90s. It has been a couple of years since I’ve watched a Hindi movie (Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t count). But when I read something today that Shah Rukh said in an interview about religion and Islam’s role in terrorism, it made me realize how much of a negative influence film actors can have over the culture of our society. The interview was scattered, so I took it apart to see what the film star was actually saying. I’m presenting my thoughts on it here. Keep in mind that this interview was done in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks by Muslim terrorists, and that the questions were in that context.

There were some sterling points that Khan made in the interview. He spoke about “keeping the beautiful secular nature of our country intact” and about how he would “tell youngsters now that we need to create a new religion, a new discipline. And that new religion is work.” But overall, it was clear that the actor was taking a position that is all too common among celebrities in India – a lack of condemnation of the negative aspects of a religion by actually revising the religion itself.

A few months ago I wrote about Aamir Khan’s statement to the public asking them not be fooled by politicians who exploit religion to stay in power by dividing people on communal lines. Shah Rukh Khan takes a different approach to facts. On a trip to Malaysia, Khan said: “Islam does not in any way tell you to be violent“. Now, of course I want to believe that. I really wish the ones who follow the passages requiring Muslims to stone adulterers or execute apostates would stop doing so and tear those pages out. But I’m not so keen about actually believing in this fairy tale. Not when lives are at stake.

My main reason for writing this post is to vent at the degree of influence that movies and movie stars have over the masses. But there is another reason why I’m writing this- the fact that where religious beliefs are concerned, it is socially acceptable to blame the individual over the institution. Thus religion itself is excused while those brainwashed by it are punished. This is a serious lack of awareness. A quote by Steven Weinberg, the Nobel winning physicist, comes to mind. This is from the New York Times, April 20th 1999:

“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion”.

In a previous post I mentioned Noam Chomsky’s line about how slavery as an institution was terrible but the individual slave-owners were not all inherently bad (slave owners included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin). Religion is very much the same. When our leaders and figureheads blame the individuals, they are letting religions off the hook and a serious opportunity to clean them up is missed. The bad in religion survives and flourishes, protected by moderates lilke Shah Rukh and Shashi Tharoor and a thousand others who are apologists for virulent ideologies.

Shah Rukh says, “Religion is a language to seek truth, and each language stands self-sufficient. One language does not express the truth better than any other.”

Ah, what a beautifully flawed analogy. Equating fact and fiction with the poetic grace that only a Bollywood actor could deliver without a thought. I think I liked him much better as the charming sociopath on the big screen.

(To those who argue that Shah Rukh Khan, and Shashi Tharoor in this other post, are just promoting a moderate version of their religion, here is my response. These folk are not promoting a better version but are sweeping the dirt under the rug. If they truly want their religions to get better they will actually speak the truth about the terrible things that are preached in the scriptures, and then call for that to be changed, instead of claiming that there is nothing wrong with it in the first place. Just saying that Islam is not violent is not going to convince any body, especially not the extremists. Only condemning the evil that is a portion of the religion will promote a moderate form of that religion)

About the author

Ajita Kamal

10 Comments

  • I see no harm in restricting one’s interpretation of religion to the limits of the civil society of the times. This is what Shahrukh is doing. I am not that great an admirer of his acting, but I feel good that he points to a moderate interpretation of his religion.

    Most of the religions were codified during a very violent time of our history and they all in some way or the other indicate that.

    The political right in India (read the Sangh Parivar) swears by the importance of Manu Smriti in their vision of a Hindutva ruled India. They consider the laws of Manu Smriti to guide the morality of our society. This is not too different from the rules of Shariat (from my limited understanding of the subject). Here is an excerpt from Manu Smriti:

    “”
    CHAPTER VIII.

    270. A once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin.

    271. If he mentions the names and castes (gati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth.

    272. If he arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears.
    “””

    http://www.swaveda.com/elibrary.php?id=71&action=show&type=etext

    Now how different is this from the “tenets” of the religion which you claim to be intrinsically violent?

    Context is important. Context of the time and the environment in which a text is written. Any historical text blindly followed will be out of line in modern society. It is only right to bring to a pupil’s attention to the part which makes the most sense for the times.

    • The answer to the first part of your question is added as a post script to the post.
      As to the last part, read my other posts. Nirmukta is an equal opportunity offender.

  • @ Ajita

    I think you are right on the money. I have been saying that for a long time. It’s isn’t the mulsims but the teachings of Islam which are to blame since it is the Koran that mandates the killing of kafirs.

    Also it doesn’t seem that SRK has read his Quran or any other religious book properly as he claimed that

    “No religion has ever told anyone that work is wrong, any work.”

    Really !! here is a list of professions found to be haram in Islam according to muslims and add to that money-lending/banking since banks also charges interest. It’s true that the list is open to interpretation and I don’t agree with the list completely but most islamic scholars agree with it.

    http://web.youngmuslims.ca/online_library/books/the_lawful_and_prohibition_in_islam/ch2s4p5-2.htm

    About SRK’s comments I think frankly that any person like SRK who has a public image to maintain will always try to be ambiguous and diplomatic. So anything they say in public should be discounted as just another fence-sitter trying to appease both sides and stay away from controversy.

    @Sandip

    I think your claim is misleading. Even though I don’t support the RSS, I don’t think they literally follow the teachings of the Manu Smriti neither have I read anywhere about RSS members attacking or killing dalits based on the laws of manu (if you have any reports to substantiate your claim I will be happy to look at it).

    Here is a link which clarifies their position.
    http://sangh.wordpress.com/2006/04/20/test/

    The difference between Hindusim and Islam is that while hindus do not consider Manu as god and his laws as sacrosanct, Muslims consider the teachings of Koran as coming directly from Allah and as such not open to interpretation or modification. So while the laws of manu can be debated, argued against and modified or totally rejected, Islamic laws cannot be debated or changed. Anyone who tries to challenge them or change them is given the label of an apostate and is either exiled or summarily executed.

  • Btw Ajita, Have you checked your site on IE-6. I am not sure if it’s a problem with my browser or if it’s with everyone’s browser but some of the links in blogroll and community sections are not visible or looks like they have formatted incorrectly. When I open your site with firefox they appear fine. I am not sure if the same problems shows up with IE-7?

  • @Nitwit Nastic: Thanks for the heads up! We’re looking into it now. IE6 is probably unique in having this problem because it doesn’t have support for CSS. We hope to have it fixed soon.

  • 1400 hundread year old software is active

    This is a software that has been so well prepared, taught to the young
    and impressionable minds through rote, with reason benumbed, in their
    Madrasas. This programme, made of quite a tough, hard and an impenetrable
    shell is what offers an alternative life-style to the normal
    one, promises a paradise with 72 virgins, in addition to that the privilege of choosing 70 of
    one’s family members for complimentary tickets to heaven [for every
    martyr who lays down his worthless life], life after death, and great
    pleasures in store for every ” Martyr”. One would think that God
    rewards the truly faithful with higher intelligence but this God promises more sexual
    pleasure in his heaven! This says more about the values this God holds dear than the Paradise!

    This is a time-tested software that worked during the Crusades, the
    sacking of Spain, conquering of other peaceful countries…, to top it
    all it is God’s will, for the fundamentalist at least. Nothing gives a
    greater identity and security than knowing that you have brothers in
    every country, every culture, race, praying and believing in the same
    cult.There is not a shred of spirituality or wonderment anywhere in
    this!! This is a DEATH CULT!

    Gujarat riots or no riots, these are rebels who would invent a cause
    if there isn’t one. This is a dehumanising virus that thrives on
    ignorance and causes this disease of the mind. To them Death seems
    more glorifying than life itself. These young men were smiling when
    they were killing! No one asks why their God likes killing.
    While others fight for Freedom and Life,
    these men fight to die and go to their ” Paradise” One hopes they
    meet 72 old Catholic Nuns in that Paradise.

    Mediocrity demands that we keep off religion, never criticise it
    because it would hurt the irrational mind. This begs a few questions:
    Great scientists and professors who save millions of lives, through
    their inventions, publish papers and subject themselves to very
    critical examination by other learned scholars in the field. Why on
    earth should religions be exempt from such criticism? If God and his
    divisive religions are so great should they not withstand criticism?

    All “Holy” scriptures [Hindu -including]have to be read to understand
    the mind of the desert [or the rain-forest] God, design and the
    anatomy of terror, not read to memorise and quote but read with a
    critical questioning mind, also to understand this disease and find a
    cure.

    All software, be it 5000 yrs old, 2000 yrs old or 1400 yrs old need
    re-examination and continuous virus scan.I hope we don’t wait for the
    Nukes to destroy our cities before we criticize all religions. I
    think, at least, thinking people ought to have an academic interest in
    this life threatening virus.

  • These actors need their mass base, they are talking to their target audience. They are like politicians. They are word smiths trying their best to feed what you want to hear. These have probably been brought to limelight by the underworld to sell Muslim sounding names in the Islamic countries. They walk a tight rope.

  • Nirmukta is an ‘equal opportunity offender’, haha…well said. That is a sign of integrity.

    SRK is just being politically correct about his Islam. Or at least I hope so because he could be a closet atheist. The trouble is none of these stars like Aamir or SRK can even speak against their religion as they will be considered apostates and liable to be put to death.

    There are no moderate muslims, either they are muslims or they are atheists.

    On the other hand, SRK and Aamir have been indoctrinated into Islam at a young age as most are and they are now believers or are showing the signs of “pascals wager”.

    Look at AR Rahman, a chap who converted to islam as late as 1989, when his sister fell ill and prayers to allah cured her! How naive. Obviously the entire family was under the influence of a sufi muslim and when times are hard, the mind is weak. ARR relates his success to allah, although the truth is, his late father sekhar and illayaraja are responsible for getting him started on a musical career.

    Religion is the biggest bullshit story of all time, as the late George Carlin said!

  • I presume get over one’s tribal conditioning or programming , like patriotism, loyal to one’s faith and all that is deeply embedded in the psyche. It probably asks more than reason to shed that garbage out of one’s system. These SRKs and others should watch these links:

    http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=d2GCVhwYrT8

    http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=d2GCVhwYrT8

    http://in.youtube.com/results?search_query=Memri+tv&page=1

    Cheers and mail these to believers of Jihad

  • Thanks for the comments everyone.
    @ Srini: For your software analogy I am voting your comment as the comment of the month. A section will appear in next month’s newsletter.
    @ Ajit: I didn’t come up with the phrase “equal opportunity offender”, but yes it does express our position accurately. As Meera Nanda has said in her posts, there is no reason why religions should be off-bounds for criticism. What was amusing with Sandip’s comment was that he assumed that since I was being critical of Shah Rukh Khan’s characterization of Islam, I must be a Hindu apologist. The logic there escapes me. Firstly he sidesteps the question completely (we were talking about Islam and SRKs comments, not about Hinduism, which is its own category of nonsensical beliefs). Secondly, there is the assumption that my response to the second issue would contradict my position on the first issue.
    This is a common tactic I see among believers. For example, quite often criticism of Hinduism by Westerners is met with an attack on some inane aspect of Christianity, as though that gives credence to the nonsense in their own religious teachings.