“Holy Lands” and Their Abandoned Peoples

A Secular Republic already swears to provide equality and complete freedom for all of its people; no need for a special “revelation” or “commandment.” However, when people make a god the head of a nation-state, the first thing that tends to happen is the eviction or destruction of the native people who were already occupying that land.

Although Israeli archeologists have bravely confirmed that none of the events of the Old Testaments ever transpired, the myths that the Jews hold so dear still stand as a lasting justification for the grabbing of land. Moses and Joshua endorsed the genocide of the original Canaanites because their god had promised them the land they inhabited. In 1948 and 1967, this phenomenon repeated itself when Muslim Arabs were evicted from their ancestral homes, and the usurpation of land continues unabated in the West Bank, all in the name of God's “promised land.” There is also a seemingly “eternal” cycle of revenge – the Jews were expelled from their “promised land” as well.

In Iran, the Islamic conquest drove out all the Iranians who resolved to continue their loyalty to the indigenous faith of Zoroastrianism – the descendants of those exiled Iranians today are mainly found in India and known as the Parsees (Parsis). Although no real connection is left with the old country, a passage in V.S. Naipaul's “Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among The Converted Peoples” paints a heart-rending portrait of a busload of Zoroastrian pilgrims arriving at the ruins of Persepolis and wailing at the tomb of Cyrus. Separated by a thousand years, a solemn kinship with the legendary king, the first in history to proclaim a charter of civil rights, is what these pilgrims traveled many miles and braved a treacherous Islamic dictatorship to relive, however fleetingly.

It was a poignant moment when the non-observant Muslim, Shah Reza Pahlavi capped off the celebrations for the 2,500 years of the Persian monarchy in 1971 by addressing a speech to the soul of the dead king at his tomb. Eight years later, the Shah was gone and Ayatollah Khalkhali, Khomeini's “Hanging Judge,” personally arrived with a truckload of Muslim vandals to destroy the remains of the ancient city of Persepolis, true to the spirit of the Islamic Ghazi (holy warrior) destroying a place of idolatry. However, Khalkhali was known for his books condemning Cyrus and the entire Persian civilization as fake and sinister. An angry reaction from the locals drove away the mob before any serious damage was inflicted. Not enamored of the Shah's extravagances, the people still took enough pride in their past to keep the vandalizing mullahs at bay. It was Tehran that fell, not Persepolis.

However, minorities are immediately stripped of any sense of citizenship by the repression of their basic civil rights. Iran relentlessly persecutes the Baha'is and prevents the Sunnis from building mosques in the capital city. Pakistan's treachery with its own people strives for new heights with each generation. The Ahmadiyyas, a sect of Islam that believes Mirza Ghulam Ahmed to be the Mahdi or a secondary deliverer, were amongst the most enthusiastic supporters for the creation of “The Land of the Pure.” It was only after ten million Hindus and Sikhs were ripped away from their ancestral homeland to create the state of Pakistan that the Ahmadis were coldly informed that they were persona non grata in the “pure” real estate they helped usurp. Marginalized with severe rioting in 1953, Ahmadis were finally declared to be non-Muslim (amending the Constitution in 1974 to achieve that). Wiped away from the pantheon of national heroes were Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and Dr. Abdus Salam, the first and only Pakistani to win the Nobel Prize for Physics. Pakistani Ahmadis have to sign declarations denouncing Mirza Ghulam Ahmed when applying for a passport. All of this just because the illiterate Arab warlord Muhammad claimed to be the “Seal of the Prophets” - the final messenger that God would be bothered to send to anyone. The mosques being destroyed in Pakistan are the handiwork of the most earnest and faithful Muslims, against the more blasphemous variety – insert Sunni, Shia or Ahmadi where you see fit.

For much of history, the Malay peninsula was home to a medley of indigenous traditions, Hinduism and Buddhism, until the advent of Islam. According to the constitution of independent Malaysia, every Malay is a Muslim. This is made seriously significant as Malays are officially the “Bumiputra” (“Son of the Soil”), accorded more rights, privileges and political power than the Chinese and Indian communities who have lived in the Malay peninsula for several centuries. Although barely more than 60% of the population, the Malays see themselves as the owners of the heritage and history of the land, and the ethnic Chinese and Indians are “temporary.” It is also technically possible that a non-ethnic Malay with Malaysian parents can convert to Islam and thus gain the status and privileges of the “Bumiputra.” So to be a true son of the soil of Malaysia, all you really need to do is adopt the Arabian religion and culture. Being a Hindu, Buddhist or Animist of a longer and richer Malay past counts for nothing, nor do the contributions of newer immigrants to the prosperity of the nation. Even Vladimir of the Kievan Rus, who converted his people to Orthodox Christianity, did not redefine the Russian identity to demand Christianity before actual Russian descent. When the call will come for deporting the Chinese and Indians, no one can predict.

There is no remorse felt; indeed, an exhilarating joy – how can it be easier to amass land, wealth and power than to do it with the explicit sanction of a nonexistent deity? No remorse was felt as the Puritan Pilgrims saw the animal and tree-worshiping Native Americans succumb to war and disease. It made it easier to take the land for the establishment of their Biblical colonies. The Conquistadors rather enjoyed their blood orgies in raping a continent to have it submit to their Christ and kings. The gusto with which Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims go for land and the fiendish ingenuity in mangling histories and cultures has colored most of history, but only with red.

This sordid trail of “land-grab” atrocities is not confined to the Abrahamic strain of the disease. Bhutan enjoys the reputation of the last “Shangri La” on Earth and relishes its isolation from the outside world. Picturesque as it may be, this Himalayan kingdom is resolutely Buddhist, and “Lhotshampa,” the few hundred thousand mainly Nepalese Hindus that dared to settle within its borders were forcibly deported and the remaining numbers left marginalized with a distinct message that Bhutan will never be their country. By all accounts, the Rohingya Muslims have a claim to reside in the Burmese state of Rakhine several centuries. Yet the Buddhist monks exhibit enormous gusto in firing up mobs that drive away thousands of people into squalid refugee camps.

So quickly were the Hindus deprived of their ancestral homelands due to Muslim separatism in the 20th century that many of them have figured they could do worse than learn a few of the tricks. Hindu politician Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had invented the term “Hindutva” - not even a real Sanskrit word – for his fascistic ideology. “Hindutva” seeks to have India declared a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation) where the Hindus are clearly defined as the native people, and while the Muslims and Christians do not have to renounce their faith, they must call themselves “Hindu.” Its advocates very innocently claim this is all about patriotism – a choice between loyalty to India over Mecca or Rome. But they know fully well the place Mecca has in the hearts of Indian Muslims, and the fealty to the Pope in the hearts of Indian Catholics. It may be patriotic to commiserate over the vise-grip that Islam and Christianity have over the hearts and minds of millions of Indians who have never been to either Arabia or Rome, and that leads them to deny their own culture and seek to partition their own homeland. However, it is purely fascistic to transform India from a motherland to a “Holy Land” and giving yourself then the power to take away the sense of belonging from at least 170 million Indian Muslims and Christians.

As the late, great Christopher Hitchens put it, “Religion Poisons Everything.” The Earth shrinks in the eyes of the faithful – you may be relative newcomers like the Lhotshampa or residents older than the usurpers, like the Hindus of Pakistan or Parsis of Iran, or its just that you had a new idea, like the Baha'is or Ahmadis. Only a secular republic will recognize every single inhabitant as its own. It doesn't need to drive away the religious, because unlike them, atheists do not strive to be “holy” nor are they making bookings for a promised “abode” somewhere in the heavens; they are content being human on Earth.

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