Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for April 2011

In December 2009, Karin’s scathing review of Greg Mortenson’s best-selling book Three Cups of Tea was written up on this Blog. She drew sharp criticism from some American friends who were shocked that she dared to question what was obviously such a wonderful and encouraging story about building schools in Pakistan and central Asia. Much to our surprise, a Pakistani mentioned prominently in the book, Ghulam Parvi,  responded to the Blog post. Not only did he agree with Karin but stated that many of the claims made by Mortenson were actually false.

We have been involved for over a year in making futile appeals to foreign journalists to investigate Parvi’s allegations and expose Mortenson if, indeed, the allegations were true. Many of our appeals seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. But one of the commentators on our Blog, an American woman living in Mortenson’s town and who herself visited the schools in Pakistan, took up Parvi’s allegations. She contacted Mortenson’s  Central Asia Institute directly, as well as former employees, and pursued the story with the dedication that we were incapable of.

Last night CBS Television in the US did an expose of Mortenson in their program “60 Minutes”.  (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363068n)

Today, we read of it on the BBC:
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/news/world-south-asia-13112799 >

Perseverance sometimes pays off!

But now I want to turn to another area of mindless gullibility. One of the blessings of having been away in March, was that I missed entirely the cricket World Cup hosted in India and Sri Lanka. Both host nations made it to the finals, with India winning. Ever since Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, the attraction of the game has palled for me.

Cricket in Sri Lanka has become so politicized and commercialised, with the administration of the game in the hands of politicians and their stooges. Corruption and nepotism are rife. Massive amounts of funds are diverted into building showpiece stadiums around the island. The sports minister recently admitted that Sri Lanka cricket is saddled with a US $23 million debt after cost overruns and hefty bills incurred building stadiums for the recent World Cup. Very little of the money that is poured into the game trickles down to the poor or to develop public infrastructure.

What is true of Sri Lanka also applies to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The game attracts gambling syndicates, criminal gangs and TV moghuls. It leads to an almost total neglect of other, less costly, sports. It encourages the mindless chauvinism that equates a nation’s greatness with the performance of eleven men on a cricket pitch. The mindlessness is taken to new heights in the Indian Premier League which invites cricketers from all over the world to become virtual prostitutes, paying them huge salaries to play a bowdlerized version of the game (called 20-20). The latter comes replete with American-type “cheerleaders”; all fair-skinned Indian women, even some foreigners, aping their American counterparts.  The ridiculous has become sublime.

In other words, cricket has become the  “bread and circuses” that increasingly masked the oppressions and decadence of the Roman empire. In our case, there isn’t even bread, only the circuses.

Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be that which Karl Marx used of religion. As the new religion of the Indian subcontinent, cricket has become the “opium of the masses”. Lulled into a make-believe world, millions of the urban poor congregate around their collective TV sets, thus creating an illusory sense of national unity. The more cricket is on the TV, the less time to agitate on the streets against the cruel indignities of work or the humiliations of chronic unemployment. Like soccer and royal weddings in the UK, I suppose.

What sport do I enjoy watching the most today? One that is almost impossible to catch on South Asian TV channels, because it is the least commercialized and politicized- international Rugby Union. I never tire of watching the southern hemisphere teams, and especially the New Zealand All Blacks, my favourites. Rugby may be the religion of New Zealand, but that’s their problem, not mine! All I can say is, Roll on, the Rugby World Cup!

Back to Blogging after a short break. I was travelling in the USA, accompanied by my wife, on a speaking tour of eight American universities, organized by the Veritas Forum. Two of them were in Atlanta (Georgia Tech and Emory) and the rest in the northeast region (Harvard, Boston College, Tufts, Wellesley, New Hampshire and Brown).

The US has an astonishingly high proportion of the best universities in the world, but they take their toll on students and faculty. Graduate students, many of whom come from outside the US, often tell me they feel exploited by a system that is profit-and-status driven. Faculty are pressurized to publish, and the quantity of publication often matters more than quality when it comes to securing tenure. I also find a reticence on the part of many Christian faculty to openly be identified as Christians for fear of persecution. Some intend to be more bold after they have obtained tenure; but, usually by that time, not only has their integrity been compromised but they have little interesting to say as Christians since their understanding of the Christian tradition has lagged far behind their academic “success”.

I kept raising the matter, wherever I could, of why alleged war crimes and acts of torture by Americans are not investigated by the Justice Department, while the US postures on the global stage as the great champion of human rights. I came up against a stony silence. The same silence that seems to have greeted my last Blog post “Does Truth Matter?”. I find it interesting that, whenever I write on some traditional “mission” issue, the comments flow thick and fast. Touch on what US citizens can do to help us deal with our own political repressions, and I come up against a blank wall.

Some of you out there have asked me to comment on the upheavals going on in the Middle East and North Africa. That would be pretentious, not least because I have no first-hand experience of that part of the world. I simply adopt a “Let’s wait and see” attitude to the political revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere.

I cannot help observing, however, that it is relatively easy to overthrow tyrants, especially when one has the support of the army and police. The really difficult bit is what comes after the revolution. Will the rights of religious liberty and freedom of thought be respected, and will hitherto voiceless minorities have a say in their own governance? Frankly, the prospects for the Middle East and North Africa are not very promising in this regard, because what is called for is a cultural  transformation that runs deeper than political revolution. Sudden, violent revolutions may excel at destroying the past, but they are generally impotent to create a future.

While I support the UN resolution over Libya, I continue to be sickened by the hypocrisy and double standards of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Who sells weapons to these tyrants around the world? Which banks and companies have been doing business with them? Where do they and their families stash their ill-gotten funds? These are the questions that the serious world media ought to be exploring.

And why has Libya displaced the Ivory Coast in the world’s media? In the latter we have a President refusing to relinquish power, despite having lost decisively to his rival in recent elections, and willing to slaughter his own citizens and turn a million of them into internal refugees rather than accept defeat. If any situation calls for humanitarian military intervention today on the part of the UN, it is surely this! But, sadly, Ivory Coast only produces chocolate, not oil.

David Bentley Hart, in his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press, 2009) points out that the revolutions that transform societies at the deepest levels are those that also reshape the imagination and reorient desire. Christianity, in its first three centuries, argues Hart, was “a revolution of the latter sort: gradual, subtle, exceedingly small and somewhat inchoate at first, slowly introducing its vision of divine, cosmic, and human reality into the culture around it, often by deeds rather than words, and simply enduring from one century to the next.”

Hart is not, however, offering a triumphalist version of Church history. He writes: “The gospel has at best flickered through the history of the West, working upon hard and intractable natures- the frank brutality of barbarians, the refined cruelty of the civilized- producing prodigies of sanctity and charity in every age, institutional and personal, and suffering countless betrayals and perversions in every generation.”


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