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Ending the year on a note of hope

India
Religion
Society
Pointing to hope

pol sifter under a Creative Commons Licence

Last blog of the year!

As the world (and New Internationalist’s editorial office) starts to shut down for the year, I ponder the end of a tumultuous 2015.

I’d like to share my rambling thoughts with you.

Everyone has had their fill of bad news and more bad news. Global warming, floods, earthquakes, terrorists, ISIS beheadings, enslaved Yezdi women, the worldwide scourge of trafficking for sex and slave labour, mass shooting sprees in the US, wars, genocide.

The bad news never ends.

Yet we’re ending on a note of hope. Despite expert warnings that the Paris talks were too little, too late, despite James Hansen denouncing Paris 2015 as a fraud, somehow people the world over have been celebrating the outcome as historic, a win for humanity, a first step to curbing emissions. Reading the reports from India and abroad, I am reminded of a grand old veteran of many epic battles, David Cohen, who died in November. David was part of the US civil rights movement, the war on tobacco companies and myriad other fights to make his earth a better place. The most terrifying battle of our times appears to be the one against climate change finishing us off altogether. Yet David’s son Aaron writes a moving account of his father’s optimism until the end. David was sure this generation would come up with a solution to fight and win the battle to pull our planet back from the brink.

Anjuman-I-Islam, India’s largest modern Muslim institution, has joined the ideological war against ISIS, or Daesh, after 1,000 Indian imams and clerics signed a fatwa against ISIS denouncing its jihadist extremism as ‘un-Islamic’ and ‘inhuman’. Surely something else to cheer about.
It is with this optimism that I would like to move into the new year. We, the people, have to take control in many small ways and life-style changes, to help the planet.

Intolerance has been hotly debated in India, as 2015 saw a Muslim man beaten to death for the crime of eating beef. He didn’t actually have beef in his fridge. But that obviously was not the point.

The climate of hate being perpetrated by a small fraction of our population is frightening to minorities. Hinduism’s philosophy has always been more tolerant than most monotheistic religions.

But evil or misguided religious bigots create trouble in every corner of the world. It has been that way since time immemorial. Yet in every riot or genocide, a few genuinely good souls have sheltered and saved the persecuted. There was Oskar Schindler working to rescue Jews in Nazi Germany. Many Hindus in Gujarat hid Muslim fugitives from the rampaging mobs. Quakers in the US provided sanctuary to African American slaves to enable their escape to freedom. Always, even in the midst of our darkest times, a few rays of hope and goodness have existed.

Rather unusually, probably for the first time in our remote town of Gudalur, in South India, there was a Channukkah celebration. Jared, a young Jewish American, celebrated the Jewish holiday with his partner Casey, who grew up practising Islam as a child. And a host of Indian friends from different religious backgrounds, including Omri of Israeli origin, joined them. I thought this was quite beautiful. It moved me deeply to hear about latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts adorning a Gudalur table together with Tamil and Kerala cuisine contributed by local friends. This multi-cultural, multi-religious gathering, even as we hear horror stories from all over the world about hatred and intolerance, was to me the epitome of India. Religious festivals were fun for everyone. We shared special food with friends of different faiths. My grandmother had a Jewish friend in Calcutta in the 1950s. Muslims sent delicious biryani to Hindu friends. Diwali was celebrated by all. Christmas saw decorations in shop windows. Everyone had an interest and curiosity about the celebrations of others.

It is a nice note to end the year on. We need hope. How else can we survive? Or move on.

Sending you all, dear readers, a Christmas hug from India. And may the new year bring us peace and good tidings.

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