Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Religious Freedom

Do I demand higher standards of tolerance from Muslims?

Given my penchant (a) to think for myself and not take others' words as the only basis for my opinions, and (b) to speak out what I think (always being work in progress), it is  possible that I will be occasionally misunderstood. That is unavoidable. We cannot communicate perfectly with each other, nor understand each other perfectly.

That is yet another reason for advocating freedom of speech. Everyone should be able to speak out freely without fear of violent reprisal on account of other people's potential misunderstandings. There must be freedom to discuss, freedom to clarify and freedom to review one's opinions. These are the only tools at our disposal in search of the truth. Total openness and freedom.

Recently a Muslim friend (won't name him) found one of my statements in my recent Freedom First article on religious freedom exceptionable. Extracts from our correspondence are provided below, to clarify matters. I trust my friend will understand my perspectives better as a result, just I have understood his points better.

Correspondence from XX

Haven't really been a fan of TOI, but here's an article I found rather correct, particularly in the context of your write up on religious freedom. In fact, I have reservations on certain portions of your article, not least your insinuation that the Muslim community have themselves to blame for  being discriminated against. Someone recently indicated that blaming the victim is a typical fascist argument, that has been used by everyone from Nazi supporter to white supremacists in South Africa and those who oposed the Civil rights movement in the US (the list goes on). I'll write in detail about this later:

My response

Dear XX

I don't know which article of mine you are referring to. As far as I know I have never made any insinuation that would even remotely imply such an implication simply because I don't think on those lines.

Response from XX

I was referring to your article 'Religious Freedom in the Free society' in the latest edition of the newsletter. I was referring to this statement "Therefore, even after living in India for nearly a thousand years, Muslims do not always feel welcome – which is not to say that they have always helped their own cause." To me, it did insinuate that Muslims were (even partly) responsible for being discriminated against.

It's not merely the statement, but the general tone of the article towards Islam and 'Muslims' that I found a little demeaning. When you say that the 'level of religious freedom declined precipitously with the advent of Islam, you subsequently referred to Aurangzeb. However, Islam came to India centuries before Aurangzeb (or even Babur or Lodhi for that matter). The first mosque in India was built in Kerala in the 7th Century AD (Around the year 629), during the lifetime of the Prophet. Incidentally, this is probably exactly a thousand years before Aurangzeb.

To call Islam intolerant, and to term its instances of tolerance as 'relative' would run contrary to historical facts. Jewish persecution throughout the Middle Ages in Europe, starting even before the crusades, is well documented. In fact Jews were barred from owning property and forced to live in ghettos with limited rights till as late as the 19th century – there were no such compulsions under Islamic rule. Islamic nations all over the mediterranean, Spain, and North Africa were looked upon as examples of tolerance when compared to Europe (I'm writing from memory here – I can quote examples but don't really have the time now). Incidentally, Akbar held his dialogue among world religions (a regular occurrence in his court) at around the same time Europe was still persecuting its minorities.

This is of course not to say that Islam hasn't shown its intolerant side at all. However, the criticism and diatribe against Islam fundamentally comes from people who have limited knowledge of world history (and indeed, contemporary history – the holocaust, for instance). For a better understanding of Hindu Muslim relations before the advent of the British, I recommend you read 'The Last Mughal' by William Darlymple. It is a refreshing change from the propaganda that Hindu-Muslim relations were hostile during Mughal rule (At least, immediately preceding British rule)

I have reservations about references to 'Muslims' as a wholeI find it rather odd that references to Muslims (usually negative, sometimes pejorative) come easily to many writers and newspapers, while they would normally exercise caution when it comes to referring to say, fanatics from other religions ('Hindutva' or 'The Saffron brigade' but not 'Hindus'). For a Muslim reading it, the message really doesn't smack of inclusiveness – it's almost like referring to aliens.

I would like to reiterate that I have tremendous respect for your views, your integrity and honesty, and will continue to do so.  I for one do have never doubted your commitment to religious freedom, but I do feel that subtle prejudice has managed to somehow creep into the article, probably inadvertently. My criticism (if you can call it that) here is probably because I expected much higher standards when it came to an article on Religious Freedom, free of prejudice in any manner.

My response:

Dear XX

Thanks for your extensive clarification. I can now see where you are coming from and that the matter is quite subtle. I must note at the outset that it is very hard to summarise one's views in a few words, thus often leaving scope for misinterpretation. However, once you've gone through the context in which I speak and write, misunderstanings can be minimised.

First of all, I'm sure you know that there is quite a difference between a statement such as this: "the Muslim community have themselves to blame for  being discriminated against" and "which is not to say that they have always helped their own cause". The latter statement (mine) is more subtle and does not generalise to the entire Muslim community

I agree with your notes on history. While I haven't read Darlymple (I generally don't read fiction), I've done a fair bit of reading and arrived at views which are expressed in chapter 8 of DOF (draft). Please do read it. In that chapter I have unambiguously shown that Islam was among the most tolerant religions in the medieval era. Also read my extensive discussion of Islam as a preserver of Greek thought, in an earlier chapter.

However, I rarely mince my words, being pretty much plain spoken. There is no doubt (as you agree: "this is of course not to say that Islam hasn't shown its intolerant side at all") that some elements of Islam have become extremely fanatic particularly over the past few decades, demanding that the world obey their dictates, or else they will kill. They might well have some rationalisations for this approach but if X commits a crime, then let a proper judicial process be followed to hold X to account. It makes no sense to kill Y for the alleged crime of X, or to short-circuit due process.

Thus, it is not just a few isolated madmen like Osama bin Laden but some Islamic leaders (like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who issued a fatwa against Salman Rusdhie) as well who have been extreme in their expressions. India's memories of extensive temple destructions still haunt quite a few people (Hinduism was not sheltered by the tolerance Islam gave to the people of the book), leading to extremist Hindu movements in retaliation. The partition was similarly precipitated not merely by extremists like Savarkar but by Muslim leaders as well. In DOF, therefore, I apportion the blame at the appropriate doorstep. None is spared, not Tilak, Gandhi, Nehru, Savarkar, or Jinnah. All of them could have done things differently to minimise the influence of religion on politics. They did not do as much as they could have done.

I have extensively praised Akbar in DOF, but decried people like Aurangzeb. I have no doubt whatsoever that the tolerant character typical of India was adversely impacted by at least some Islamic rulers who periodically used violent destruction of others' temples as a method to persuade. I do not believe I'm being inaccurate when I note that " 'level of religious freedom declined precipitously with the advent of Islam". That is the truth. I'm no one's friend, but the friend only of the truth.I have no intention of distorting history by suggesting that the entire Islam treated Hindus with particularly great tolerance. Yes, there were people like Akbar, and I deeply admire them, but as you might also be aware, Akbar was considered an outcaste by most chaste Muslims. His attempt to resolve differences amongst religions was abandoned the instant he died.

I will continue to speak the truth as I see it just like I have continued to criticise extremist Hindus, and the internecine violence within the Christian Church.  

Only for Muslims who took their religious beliefs to the extreme (and continue to do so)  is intended my qualifier: "which is not to say that they have always helped their own cause". I trust  that is a reasonable depiction of the truth.

Extremist Hindus have been the subject of a significant share of my criticism over the years. It is intolerable that anyone would go about destroying buildings in modern India (Babri Masjid) or killing others on religious grounds. I have been a vocal critic of all Hindutva-motivated extremism and have NEVER condoned it. I'm comfortable with its charitable forms, but dead against its violent expression. Please read my blog post on the RSS, for instance. 

In summary, as I've outlined in DOF, no religion can completely escape from the charge of intolerance. Currently Islam is displaying more intolerance, on average, than any other religon. That is a fact. Much of this extremism in India is motivated by extremist Saudi Islam, and I have written how and why this should be stopped. So also foreign influence by foreign Hindus (or others) must be stopped. Mixing of religion with politics is ALWAYS dangerous, even in the hands of Gandhi.

I therefore continue to oppose organised religion which has a tendency to become political or commercial: a corrupt power source without any internal checks and balances.

Yet most religions also display positive characteristics – which is why so many people are religious. There is this constant tension between extremists and the good people. Let's encourage the good people and pinpoint and ostracise extremists.

I always continue to look for opportunities to promote a better understanding of Hinduism (e.g. Vivekananda, Suddhananda), Islam (e.g. my promotion of a few articles from these blogs e.g  this, or this on my Facebook profile), and Christianity (e.g in the same article you refer to – through citing sensible things that the Pope has said). But I also without fear or favour pin down all evil – whosoever is its source. I'm pretty even-handed in doling out praise and criticism.

I trust you'll agree that we ought to have the liberty to speak the truth as we see it. 

I urge ALL religions to excommunicate those who misuse the tenets of their religion to harm innocents. I think Islam has a major challenge before it, as the author of this post has discussed. It is important for people like you to speak out at EVERY opportunity against those who kill innocents. Rehabilitating the image of Islam won't be easy, but it can't be done by being super-sensitive to criticism. Take the criticism on the chin and fight those against whom the criticism is addressed: being those who are intolerant, those who deny freedom of speech and other freedoms, those who, like Iranian leaders, use brutal punishments for minor crimes.

The image of Islam has taken a GREAT HIT over the past decade. I'm happy to work with people like you to rehabilitate the good Islam. But all evil that parades in the name of Islam must be blacklisted.



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Religious freedom in the free society

Tolerance and respect for others’ opinions is the basis of religious freedom – the distinguishing hallmark of the free society. This month I briefly review how mankind discovered tolerance. I then ask whether India is tolerant. Finally, I outline the religious freedom policy of the Freedom Team of India (FTI:

The History of Religious Freedom
Intolerance has been the norm throughout most of human history. Organised religions have spearheaded this intolerance, their surface claims of love for humanity masking their support for brutal violence against those who hold different views. Collectivist, even tribal in their origin (often geographically localised), organised religions think of life as a zero-sum game with the loss of one ‘soul’ from a particular religion being seen as another’s gain. There is, in consequence, a ferocious competition to harvest our souls.  
It is true that, as Vivekananda noted, it is not necessarily the founders who stoked intolerance, but their followers. “The disciples of all prophets have always inextricably mixed up the ideas of the Master with the person, and at last killed the ideas for the person. But it hardly matters to the innocent child killed in religious violence whose ideas killed him – the founder’s or a follower’s.
The modern conception of tolerance has taken an inordinately long time to develop. Nascent forms of tolerance arose in ancient Persia and India. Thus, “[t]he Hindus had one peculiar idea – they never made any doctrines or dogmas in religion; and the latter has had the greatest growth” (Vivekananda). In its policy on religious tolerance, FTI accepts that India should be proud of this history of tolerance. It is important to remember, however, that the ancient Hindu conception was not a theoretical formulation but an experiential practice, a loosely defined way of life. Hindu tolerance therefore frays easily when stressed, often being skin-deep. On the other hand, religions now often classified as intolerant, like Islam, had some episodes of (relative) tolerance in the past.
But it is Christianity that makes the loudest claims about its “contributions” to tolerance. Robert A. Sirico goes further, claiming that “[i]t is Christianity that lies at the root of the body of ideas we know today as classical liberalism”[1]. This view is factually incorrect. In my draft manuscript, The Discovery of Freedom[2](DOF), I show clearly that the modern conception of tolerance was a reaction to internecine massacres within Christendom, not a consequence of its positive advocacy of religious harmony.
The credit for laying the theoretical foundation for tolerance must go squarely to liberal philosophers like John Locke (1632-1704). Locke cited a few never-practiced elements of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to advocate “[t]he toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion”[3]. Voltaire (1694-1778) shamed Christendom with his commentary on the massacre in Béziers. Only then did Christendom begin to move away from its 1,500-year history of mindless brutality.
The modern liberal voice has been institutionalised through constitutionally protected tolerance. Even Christianity now speaks of tolerance. In the 1965 Declaration of Religious Freedom, Pope Paul VI wrote that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” One only hopes that all organised religions will one day internalise this idea of the philosophers of liberty.
Religious Freedom Under Siege in India
The level of religious freedom in India declined precipitously with the advent of Islam, particularly in reaction to fanatics like Aurgangzeb who overshadowed relatively benign kings like Akbar. A bitter taste from religious excess disrupted relations between Hindus and Muslims. During India’s independence movement, a few unthinking statements and actions by the leaders exacerbated the existing rift. This led to the partition of India on religious grounds – a grievous blow to liberalism, formalising as it did, at least implicitly, a place for religion in the affairs of the state
Post-independence, India’s major political parties did not try to clearly separate the jurisdictions of the state and religion. Instead, our lawmakers enacted laws for specific religious communities in the Indian Parliament. Our major political parties identify themselves with religion: one provides state-based subsidies for Muslims; the other insists on a greater role for Hindus. Communal tensions continue to fester below the surface, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Religious freedom is under siege in India. This has had adverse impacts on freedom of expression as well, as I discussed in my articlein Freedom First in July 2010.
One would even suggest that religious fundamentalism is stronger today than it was ever before. Believers in Hindutva reject the idea of religious freedom altogether and want to re-open ancient wounds (at least that is the inference one draws from the writing and actions of those who claim to follow this ideology). Therefore, even after living in India for nearly a thousand years, Muslims do not always feel welcome – which is not to say that they have always helped their own cause.
Firmly separating the domains of religion and the state by enforcing law and order and bringing about a sense of common national purpose requires leadership of a calibre that India has not yet produced. Only liberals can provide such leadership, but India’s liberals have deserted the battlefield – or they had until now when FTI has started assembling.
FTI’s position on religious freedom
FTI is a group of leaders unambiguously committed to freedom including religious freedom. Its members firmly believe that religion is a personal matter to be practiced inside our own homes, temples or churches, not something on which governments should create policy and enact laws. Governments should never get involved in any religious activity (such as through subsidies) unless it trespasses others’ liberties. FTI therefore does not inquire into or ask its members to alter their personal religious beliefs. Simply speaking, their religious beliefs are not the business of FTI.
FTI believes that once the rule of law is enforced, religions will thrive on their own merit. FTI policy asks everyone, including religions, to be given complete freedom of speech – subject to accountability. This includes the right to preach one’s religion and convert others to one’s faith. (I have reservations against the use of foreign funds for such advocacy, but this concern is not FTI policy at the moment.) FTI requires such freedom to be exercised with care since freedom is never license to cheat. To the extent that religious activity leads to conversion, the state has an interest in ensuring that no coercion, bribes, or misleading conduct is involved.
Freedom Team of India

It is abundantly clear that no major political party in India cares about our liberties. The only way, therefore, to foster religious freedom and tolerance is for liberals to assemble and seek a mandate from the people through the hustings. Please therefore join or otherwise support FTI. Become a Freedom Partner!

[This article was published in the September 2010 issue of Freedom First]

[1] Robert A. Sirico, Must Religion Be a Threat to Liberty? Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies, 2008, p.12.

[2] Available for comment at

[3] Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration,  1689, []

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Liberalism is the outcome of education

On FTI in some context I was contemplating how liberalism evolves in societies. Let me share these thoughts with you. There are many factors I believe for the growth of liberalism in society, but one of the most important factors is education. I'll go a bit personal to make this point:

a) One of my two grandmothers (father's mother) was literate but not well-educated and therefore often spoke in crude Panjabi in a dialect I could barely understand. She was naturally also steeped in caste consciousness and was virulent against Muslisms (both my mother's and father's side had good reasons: being kicked out of their homesteads in what is now Pakistan). She was super-religious as well, and read not just the Gita (पाठ) but a range of other books, daily.

b) My other grandmother (mother's mother) was far more educated and had some of the most amazingly liberal views one can imagine.

c) Both my grandfathers were Matriculates (which was considered being well-educated for their times) and were basically liberal in their views. They followed all religious customs and processes but did not over-do them, nor did they hate anyone.

d) My father, obviously more educated, developed even more liberal views. He is what I'd call a liberal Hindu. He has spent many years carefully reading up English translations of the Vedas by Indians (not Westerners) and wrote what I would call a pretty liberal book on Hindu philosophy.

e) In this broadly liberal environment, with access to some really wonderful books from my early childhood (Living Biographies of Great Philosophers by Henry Thomas and Dana Lee Thomas was my 'bible' at age 12), it was natural for me to grow up even more liberal.

f) My son, far more widely read than I, will surely turn out to be even more liberal; he is already a staunch libertarian and is almost wedded to, so many books he has bought from them.

The point is this: EDUCATION MATTERS. Education correlates strongly with the liberal perspective. Not always, but to a pretty good extent.

Instead of worrying about the mess created by religions in India our focus should be on good governance including world class education for each child. That, in my view, will ease 80% of the pressures of religious over-zealousness in our country, over the course of time. These things take time to fix, possibly a generation or two.

In addition, many highly respectable people have been put off by the pseudo-secular philosophy of Congress (I fully agree with them that Congress is pseudo-secular) and turned their back on the liberal Hindu tradition represented by Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Radhakrishnan, K.M. Munshi, and Rajaji. Now many such people are slaves of third rate Hindu writers (I won't name them) with no knowledge or understanding of Hindu philosophy.

Similarly, in Indian Islam there is (or was) a genuine liberal tradition that has now been almost totally smothered by illiberal traditions due to bad policies of pandering to religions and making them a big deal. We need, through education, to encourage liberal Islamic traditions to revert and flourish in India. Indeed, Jinnah was an arch example of the liberal Muslim tradition until things went badly wrong between him and Nehru. Note that till the end of his life he did not comply with any fanatic Islamic injunction.

In other words, religious freedom is work in progress. It is the most sensitive issue in the India, and we need to be aware that change will take time.

By restricting FTI's focus on good governance, rule of law and education,  we will help change things for the better. By worrying too much about religious influences on India, we will needlessly aggravate things and go down a blind alley.

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Those who want to live in the free society must swear an oath to freedom

I'm reproducing below the comment I made on Shantanu's blog, for the record. I will continue to write on religious liberty in other posts (my article on religious freedom will be published in Freedom First on 1 September).


Dear Shantanu

As I’ve elaborated in The Discovery of Freedom ( ALL religions have displayed tendencies for tolerance and intolerance. To start our journey to the (scientific) truth about reality, and hence to gain a level of control over nature, leading us to wealth and health, all modern societies have had to firmly break out of the choking grip that religions have exercised on our minds.

Thus, I don’t know of any religion which can’t be faulted on intolerance displayed. For instance, in the last few days some people on my blog have informed me that anyone involved in cow slaughter in India must be killed (capital punishment!). Thus, I haven’t come across a ANY fully tolerant religion so far. They don’t exist.

All religions have an EXTREMELY EVIL underbelly – of fanatic followers ready to kill others on the slightest pretext. Emperor Tiberius remarked, ‘if the gods think that they have just claims for grievance, they can surely take care of themselves’. But it appears that religious followers need to settle scores themselves.

It has been a very hard journey for USA over the past 9 years. One must sympathise with its travails. It is also a journey that seems to be increasingly risking US liberty.

The USA was founded by Protestants who had fled from the murderous Catholics of Europe. Today it faces a difficult choice:

1) If it blocks Imam Rauf’s centre, it risks reneging on the social contract of liberty it signed in 1776.

2) If it lets Imam Rauf’s centre be built, it risks strengthening those who will put pressure on USA’s liberties in the future.

The risks to liberty in BOTH cases are severe and urgent. The matter can’t be allowed to hang as it is, for when liberty declines in the USA, there will be no other place left in the world to uphold liberty. India is so far behind I can’t (now) see it leading the world in my lifetime. We must encourage the USA to defend liberty – above everything else in the world.

I therefore suggest a way forward: Take a written oath from Imam Rauf (and the Muslim community in NY) to be lodged with NY council asserting that Rauf and his fellow Muslims will NEVER demand a reduction in liberties in USA on religious grounds and that they will FIGHT SOLELY FOR USA as its citizens.

Once that oath is taken, Imam Rauf must be permitted to build the Cordoba Centre. As I note in DOF, Cordoba was a great case study in tolerance in Medieval Europe, at a time when Christianity was the world’s most intolerant religion. But Islam has subsequently lost the trust it once might have held in the minds of some. It must re-build this by making PUBLIC and credible statements to defend LIBERTY.

There are also very good, rational reasons for USA to demand such an oath. Too much blood has been spilled by Islamic fanatics. Any sign of weakness at this point in the USA will be exploited by fanatics within Islam to impose medieval ‘moral’ standards on the entire world! That must be stopped!!

The dangers posed by fanatic Islam are now obvious and self-evident. Too long have fanatics who have been plying a medieval trade of destruction of human liberty been allowed to get away because of confused moral relativism. Moral relativism must end. The supreme morality of liberty must be asserted. BOLDLY. You want to live in a free society like USA, then OBEY the fundamental tenets of freedom. Else go back to your own ancient land. No one will bother you there.

Note that after European Catholics had killed hundreds of thousands of Protestants, the Pope finally issued a statement in 1965 acknowledging the PRIMACY of religious freedom: “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

It is time for ALL PEOPLES of the world to sign such an oath. The FTI policy on religious freedom ( is the best document known to mankind so far on this subject, and should be used as a starting point for such an oath by all citizens of civilised nations.

This oath must also apply also to those who are re-asserting medieval ideas in India (e.g. Baba Ramdev and the Hindutva brigade). India is faced with a great challenge: If liberty is not strongly defended by this generation, I expect India to go down the gurgler and end up with mayhem – very much like Pakistan. And it will finally splinter into a thousand pieces. Liberty and tolerance is the ONLY glue that can unite India.

The world must now split into two: the FREE and NOT FREE. Let the milk and water be separated. Those who oppose liberty must exit the FREE societies. Let them live their disastrous medieval brutal lives wherever they want, but not in the free societies. The world can’t continue tolerating this inner tension that is making it virtually impossible to live in peace anywhere now.

All people who enter free societies must SWEAR to uphold religious liberty.




Recall that America was founded ON LIBERTY. There was really no other reason for its foundation. Therefore those who migrate to America for economic gain must prove their are first committed to liberty, before they are allowed to participate in the fruits of freedom. No one has a right to live in a free nation only to exploit its economic benefits. The purpose of living in a free nation is first and foremost this: to ensure human liberty. Economic migrants from illiberal roots must therefore be forcibly prevented from entering free societies – and sent back to their illiberal shores. Let the world split into two: at least there will be clarity between the White and Black, then. 

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