Monday, July 28, 2008

Channel 4 documentary: Misleading & Defamatory

Channel 4 is getting a much deserved coordinated roasting for its woefully inaccurate documentary entitled The Qur'an - specifically its portrayal of Shia beliefs.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Letter to Channel 4

Dear Sir

Anthony Thomas’ much feted documentary entitled The Qur’an was indeed a refreshing, challenging and welcome piece. However, its provocativeness belied a disappointingly na├»ve understanding of the chronic Sunni-Shia schism in Islam. Both communities in this country in particular have strived hard to reconcile theological differences and debunk mutual misconceptions. Thomas’ nonchalant dismissal of Shia theology, strangely echoing a Talibanesque position, as having no basis in the Qur’an will unfortunately help to dismantle the fragile bridges built between the sects and consolidate the extremist aspiration to brand the Shia heretics, Islam’s own fifth column, a barely tolerated cultish minority. The brutal consequences of such perpetual misinformation can be witnessed in the Parachahar region of Pakistan as I write.

In his book The Failure of Political Islam, Olivier Roy writes “we find Islam divided into three geographic and cultural tendencies: the Sunni Arab Middle East, the Sunni Indian subcontinent, and Irano-Arab Shiism.” While the Pentagon reconsiders its ‘Neo-Con Shia-philia’ as one commentator puts it, ‘Irano-Arab Shiism’ continues to forge an emerging political presence. The strategic importance of the Shia diaspora has never been reflected in what is generally known of them and their beliefs. Unfortunately Thomas has done little to redress the balance.

Tasteful or Tasteless?

The current 'satirical' frontpage of the New Yorker has generated a whirlwind of angry opinion.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kulfi and Gajrela - Double-hit Combo

Just got back from a friend's delightful ultra-lavish wedding reception the highlight of which was a malai kulfi - gajrela - raspberry sauce combo for dessert. Heaven on a plate.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes

Earlier this week I managed to pop in to the London Literature Festival taking place at the Southbank Centre and hear Mohammed Hanif read from his admittedly hilarious first novel 'A Case of Exploding Mangoes'. His laissez-faire demeanour, outrageous accent, deadpan delivery and the endless contortions of his plasticine face only added to the mirth. He also had to endure a conversation with the terribly 'high-society' Muneeza Mirza in which his rapier wit really left her reeling - a delight for the audience.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Damascus by Night

Damascus by Night, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Odd One Out

Odd One Out, Damascus, Syria ©Tauseef Mehrali 2008

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Sisters and Goddesses

William Dalrymple unearths an incredible hybridisation of Hindu and Christian beliefs in the villages of South India where among other things (and much to the vexation of the local priest) the Virgin Mary is believed to be the sister of the Goddess Bhagavati. Dalrymple also touches on the idea that the disciple Thomas brought Christianity to India, but is less convinced than Dr Beckford was earlier this year.

Bhagavati is the pre-eminent goddess in Kerala, the most powerful and beloved. In some incarnations, it was true, she could be ferocious: a figure of terror, a stalker of cremation grounds who slaughtered demons without hesitation or compassion. Some of her titles reflected this capacity: She Who Is Wrathful, She Who Has Flaming Tusks, She Who Causes Madness. But, in other moods, Bhagavati could be supremely benign and generous - the caring, loving, fecund mother - and this was how her followers usually liked to think of her. For many, she was the deity of the land itself: the spirit of the mountains, and the life force in the soil. In this form, Bhagavati is regarded as a chaste virgin and a caring mother, qualities she shares with her sister, whose enclosure lies a short distance down the road.

"Yes, yes, the Virgin Mary is Bhagavati's younger sister," explained Vasudeva, the head priest, matter of factly, as if stating the obvious.

"But, for sisters, don't they look rather different from each other?" I asked. A calendar image of the goddess, pinned up behind him, showed Bhagavati as a wizened hag wreathed in skulls and crowned with an umbrella of cobra hoods. In her hand she wielded a giant sickle.

"Sisters are often a little different from each other," he replied. "Mary is another form of the Devi. They have equal power." He paused: "At our annual festival the priests take the goddess around the village on top of an elephant to receive sacrifices from the people. She visits all the places, and one stop is the church. There she sees her sister."