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Marriage equality in Bangladesh

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Last month, the United States Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states of the Union, and the District of Columbia, adding the United States to the list of nearly two dozen countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas, that recognize marriage between a man and a man, and between a woman and a woman. The decision, which is nothing short of historic, made waves around the globe, including in Bangladesh, and is a cause for celebration for everybody who believes in equal human dignity. Continue reading “Marriage equality in Bangladesh”

The archaeological site of Plato’s Academy in Athens

Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael, with Plato & Aristotle at the center
Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael, with Plato & Aristotle at the center

Founded around 387 BCE, Plato’s Academy continued throughout the Hellenistic period until the death of its last head, Philo of Larissa, in 84/83 BCE. The most famous student during that time was Aristotle, who after studying at the Academy for almost twenty years went on to tutor Alexander the Great in 343 BCE, and then started to teach at the Lyceum in 335/334 BCE. A group of Neoplatonist philosophers revived the Academy at the beginning of the fifth century CE, and it again flourished until 529 CE, when an edict of the Emperor Justinian I. brought about the closing of all institutes of higher learning in Athens. The Academy was one of the earliest such institutes in the Western world. Besides what we now call philosophy, the subjects taught likely included physics, mathematics, and astronomy. Today, the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy is in a sad state of neglect: trash, eroding walls, rusty fences or no protection at all, and only very few informational sign boards. Given the current financial crisis in Greece, this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Continue reading “The archaeological site of Plato’s Academy in Athens”

Ehe für alle

„Alle Menschen sind vor dem Gesetz gleich.“ So steht es im Grundgesetz. Das heißt auch, dass niemand wegen seiner sexuellen Orientierung benachteiligt werden darf. Die sucht man sich nämlich genauso wenig aus wie sein Geschlecht oder seine Hautfarbe. Es ist also eigentlich ganz einfach: Die Ehe für alle muss kommen (nicht die „Homo-Ehe“, die es genauso wenig gibt wie die „Homo-Geburt“ und den „Homo-Mietvertrag“). Continue reading “Ehe für alle”

নিরামিষ খাবার নিয়ে দু’টি কথা

আপনি কয়জন বাঙালীকে চেনেন যে শর্ষে ইলিশ ভালবাসে না? কাচ্চি বিরিয়ানি অথবা গরুর রেজালা ছাড়া কোন বাংলাদেশী বিয়ে কল্পনা করতে পারেন? অনুমান করতে পারি আপনার উত্তর হবে খুব বেশি না অথবা একেবারেই না। যদিও বাংলাদেশ সম্পর্কে আমার জ্ঞান সীমিত, আমি এটুকু জানি, বাঙালী মাংস ভালবাসে, মুসলমানেরা হিন্দুদের থেকে বেশি, আর সব বাঙালী মাছ ভালবাসে। সেজন্য মনে হতে পারে বাংলাদেশে প্রাণীদের অধিকার নিয়ে কথা বলা বাতুলতা। কিন্তু আমার অভিজ্ঞতা সম্পূর্ণ বিপরীত। Continue reading “নিরামিষ খাবার নিয়ে দু’টি কথা”

Eating animals

How many Bengalis do you know who do not like shorshe ilish? Can you imagine a Bengali wedding without kacchi biryani, or beef rezala? If I had to guess, I would say that your answers are “not many,” and “hardly.” Even though my knowledge of Bengal is rather limited, I think this I know: Bengalis love meat, Muslims probably a bit more so than Hindus, and virtually every Bengali loves fish. One might think that makes lecturing about animal rights in Bangladesh a quixotic exercise. I found that the opposite is the case. Continue reading “Eating animals”

Hass gegen Flüchtlinge in Ellwangen

refugees welcome

Mit dem Einzug der ersten 48 Flüchtlinge hat die Landeserstaufnahmestelle (LEA) in Ellwangen letzte Woche ihren Betrieb aufgenommen. Mittelfristig sollen in der ehemaligen Reinhardt-Kaserne tausend Menschen untergebracht werden, unter anderem aus Syrien, anderen Nahost-Staaten, Afrika und dem Balkan. Lokalpolitiker und Vertreter der Stadt Ellwangen heißen die Flüchtlinge herzlich willkommen und auch in der Bevölkerung hat die LEA eine breite Unterstützung. Rund tausend Menschen nahmen im Januar in Ellwangen an einer Solidaritätskundgebung teil. Zahlreiche Bürger spenden Kleidung und Möbel oder engagieren sich anderweitig für die Flüchtlinge.

Doch die oftmals traumatisierten Flüchtlinge treffen nicht nur auf Hilfsbereitschaft und Gastfreundlichkeit, sondern auch auf Hass, der auf einem diffusen Gemisch von Vorturteilen, Fremden- und Islamfeindlichkeit, Rassismus, Fehlinformation, Neid und Neophobie gründet. Continue reading “Hass gegen Flüchtlinge in Ellwangen”

Kindle the common light

I am a Christian. I judge but I try not to be judgmental (Matthew 7:1-6). I am a Muslim. I try to keep my promises, and be fair towards others (Qur’an 17:34-35). I am a Hindu. I try to speak and act truthfully (Mahabharata, Book 12, Section CCLIX). I am a Buddhist. I try to nurture compassion for all living things (Sutta Nipata 143-152). I am also an atheist. But that I think is at most of secondary importance.
Continue reading “Kindle the common light”

Statement on the Murder of Dr. Avijit Roy

945695_563211230401818_254148288_nI am deeply saddened by and strongly condemn the heinous and cowardly murder of Dr. Avijit Roy. Avijit was a prolific author, a loyal supporter of Bangladesh’s LGBT rights movement, a fearless defender of free speech, and the founder of Mukto-Mona, a secular online platform dedicated to freethinking, humanism and rationalism. In the few interactions I had with him as a contributor to Mukto-Mona, he was always very kind and encouraging. Continue reading “Statement on the Murder of Dr. Avijit Roy”

First issue of Falsafa published

The Department of Philosophy at Hindu College in New Delhi just published the first issue of the first edition of its new magazine, Falsafa. Congratulations to the students who worked hard to put it together, and to their dedicated teachers, particularly my friend Dr. Krishna M. Pathak! I wish the magazine and its team of editors all success, and I hope it will continue to contribute to the free exchange of ideas at Hindu College for a very long time. Continue reading “First issue of Falsafa published”

Freiheit und Toleranz statt Burka-Verbot

Seit 2011 ist in Frankreich ein Gesetz in Kraft, das die Verdeckung des Gesichts in der Öffentlichkeit unter Androhung einer Strafe verbietet. Obwohl immer wieder betont wird, dass das Gesetz auch Strumhauben und andere nicht-religiöse Kleidungsstücke betrifft, ist klar, dass der französische Gesetzgeber vor allem auf islamische Kleidungstücke wie die Burka und den Niqab abgezielt hat. Dies zeigt sich auch daran, dass das Gesetz gemeinhin als „Burka-Verbot“ bekannt ist. Frankreich befindet sich nun in der fragwürdigen Gesellschaft von Saudi Arabien, dem Iran und anderen Staaten, die Frauen dazu zwingen, sich in einer bestimmten Weise zu kleiden. Eine junge Französin muslimischen Glaubens wollte das nicht akzeptieren und zog vor den Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte in Straßburg, der das französische Gesetz im vergangenen Juli bestätigte und damit einen besorgniserregenden Präzedenzfall geschaffen hat, der die europäischen Werte der Toleranz, kulturellen Vielfalt und individuellen Freiheit gefährdet, auf die wir zurecht stolz sind. Continue reading “Freiheit und Toleranz statt Burka-Verbot”

পশু কোরবানি কি ধর্ম হতে পারে?

গত ২২শে সেপ্টেম্বর ভারতের ভুপালে পশুপাখীর অধিকার সংরক্ষণ কর্মীরা তাজ-উল-মসজিদের সামনে, ঈদ-আল-আধাতে মুসলমানদের পশু কোরবানি না দেবার অনুরোধ সম্বলিত বাণীর প্ল্যাকার্ড নিয়ে শান্তিপূর্ণভাবে দাঁড়িয়ে ছিলেন। তাঁদের বক্তব্য ছিল নিরামিষ আহার স্বাস্থ্যের পক্ষে ভালো তো বটেই, উপরন্তু পরিবেশ, প্রকৃতি ও পশুপাখীদের জন্যেও ভালো। বেনাজির সুরাইয়া ছিলেন এই কর্মীদের একজন। তাঁর পরিধানে ছিল সবুজ রঙের হিজাব এবং লেটুস পাতা দিয়ে মোড়া পরিচ্ছ্দ। তাঁর হাতের প্ল্যাকার্ডে লেখা ছিল Make Eid happy for all- Try Vegan, অর্থাৎ ঈদ যেন সবার জন্য আনন্দময় হোক, নিরামিষ খাবার খেয়ে দেখার চেষ্টা করতে পারেন। Continue reading “পশু কোরবানি কি ধর্ম হতে পারে?”

Can slaughter be religion?

A few days ago, on September 22, a group of Indian animal rights activist went to the Taj-ul-Masjid in Bhopal, one of the largest mosques on the subcontinent, and tried to persuade Muslims to celebrate a vegan Eid al-Adha this year, by pointing out the many benefits of a plant-based diet for human health, the environment, and the welfare of nonhuman animals. One of the activists, a Muslim woman named Benazir Suraiya, wore a green hijab and an Islamic dress covered in lettuce leaves, and held a sign that said, “Make Eid Happy For All: Try Vegan.” The program was organized by PETA India, a Mumbai-based animal rights organization that operates under the principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment, and that has organized similar programs on other religious occasions in the past, including Christmas, Easter, Diwali, and Janmashtami. This time, however, things turned violent. A mob formed and started to attack the group of female activists. The women were punched, and hit with shoes, and stones were thrown at them, prompting them to flee the scene while police tried to contain the mob. Disturbingly, some people, including members of the media, seem to believe that the women deserved to be assaulted, and the police in fact booked Ms. Suraiya and two others on charges of hurting religious sentiments. All in all, a woefully common story that would be a good starting point for a discussion of the delicate feelings and sense of entitlement of some religious folk, and the rampant disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. But I do not want to talk about that here. Instead, in the spirit of the free exchange of ideas, let us have the conversation that was successfully stifled in India. Continue reading “Can slaughter be religion?”

The French burqa ban: So much for Liberté!

In 2011, a French law came into effect which makes it illegal to cover one’s face in public. Even though lawyers for the French government emphasize that the law also applies to non-religious face-veiling garments, such as balaclavas and hoods, it is clear that its principal target is Muslim clothing, particularly the burqa and the niqab. The legislative process that led to the law now widely known as the French burqa ban started shortly after then-President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that the Islamic burqa – which he thinks makes women “prisoners behind a screen” – is not welcome in France. Those who violate the law face fines of up to 150€, or lessons in French citizenship. Continue reading “The French burqa ban: So much for Liberté!”

Fiddling while Rome burns: The ethical cost of living the high life

On April 24 last year, more than 1,100 people lost their lives in the rubble of Rana Plaza. The tragedy made headlines around the globe, and fundraising committees were formed both in Bangladesh and abroad immediately after the building had collapsed. Horrified by the pictures on social media, in the newspapers and on TV, people from all walks of life spontaneously decided to help. People with no personal relation to those affected by the tragedy, total strangers donated money, medical supplies, and blood, physically participated in the rescue efforts, and took to the streets to protest against a politico-economic system that continues to put the lives of workers in Bangladesh at risk. Continue reading “Fiddling while Rome burns: The ethical cost of living the high life”

দাস ব্যবসার নিকৃষ্টতম স্থান কাঁটাবন

সমাজের সম্মুখ দুয়ারের আড়ালে কত রকম দাসত্বই না লুকিয়ে রয়েছে। তৈরি পোশাক আর চামড়া কারখানা থেকে শুরু করে, এমনকি আমাদের ঘরের দরজার আড়ালেও দাসত্ব বিদ্যমান। আমরা সবাই জানি, প্রতিনিয়ত কী ঘটে চলেছে এইসব দরজার পেছনে। Continue reading “দাস ব্যবসার নিকৃষ্টতম স্থান কাঁটাবন”

Katabon: A moral disgrace, and a chance

Animals are the weakest members of our society. They cannot vote, they cannot call hartals, and they cannot hold rallies. They have no legal rights, and – even if they had – they could not go to court and demand that their rights be enforced. They have no voice and cannot speak for themselves. Animals are subject to our whim, easy to exploit and even easier to abuse. If we do not abuse them and instead treat them with the respect they deserve, it is not because of their economic or political clout, but because of our good will, and our compassion. The true test of our humanity hence is not how we behave when dealing with the powerful and privileged, but how we behave when dealing with animals. Mahatma Gandhi must have been thinking along these lines when he famously said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Continue reading “Katabon: A moral disgrace, and a chance”

A New Year’s resolution: Dare to be kind

Many know Leonardo da Vinci as the Italian Renaissance genius who painted the Mona Lisa. Few are familiar with Leonardo’s moral views. Not only was he a generous humanitarian, but he also cared deeply about animals. One of his earliest biographers, Giorgio Vasari, assures us that Leonardo was “fond of all animals, ever treating them with infinite kindness and consideration.” As proof, Vasari recounts stories of encounters Leonardo had with bird traders in the market. On such occasions, Leonardo would often buy birds, and then release them into the sky. He could not bear to see an animal of the air confined to a small cage. Leonardo’s compassion was not restricted to birds though. It is said that he abhorred violence toward any animal. The Italian explorer Andrea Corsali, in a letter to his patron, reported that the members of a people he came across on a trip to pre-colonial South Asia “are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood, nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing, like our Leonardo da Vinci.” Leonardo himself wrote that, rather than being the king of all animals, man is the king of all beasts, as he has made his gullet “a tomb for all animals.” From this, and other historical evidence, we may conclude that Leonardo was an ethical vegetarian. He refused to be a party to the unnecessary killing of animals, repulsed by the thought of other sentient beings having to surrender their precious and unique lives for his palate. This view was radical in Renaissance Italy, probably even more radical than it is in most societies today. Continue reading “A New Year’s resolution: Dare to be kind”

The Slave Market of Katabon

There is the kind of slavery that is confined behind closed doors: the doors of garments and leather factories, or the doors of our homes. Of course, we all know what happens behind these doors. Yet, we choose not to think about it too much, because we know it would upset us, because it would disturb the idyllic image we have of society. But sometimes, when a human slave is thrown into the public eye, we are forced to pay attention – as happened recently when Aduri was thrown into a dumpster. If that happens, we are outraged, as if we had not already known what happens in our neighbours’ houses. Part of what makes that inhumanity possible is the fact that “they” – domestic workers, garments and factory workers, etc. – are widely considered less-than-“us”. They are mere means to our ends, and their interests are somewhat less important than ours. That’s what too many of us think, or – at the very least – that’s how too many of us act. Continue reading “The Slave Market of Katabon”