Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beware, journalists… sorry bloggers will report

By Raza Elahi

"News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
British press magnate Lord Northcliffe

In a season when the leaked conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and some of India’s top journalists continue to evoke public curiosity and the WikiLeaks’ disclosure of internal communications between US diplomats based outside America and the central command at Washington embarrassing the White House, one may not be wrong in saying that technology alone can take on the task of bringing out something which someone wants to suppress.

Although much of the mainstream media -- except Open and Outlook magazines -- initially blacked out Radia tapes, yet they reached the public through the networking sites, blogs and Twitter etc.

Similarly, an unfazed and defiant Julian Assange, the founder of whistleblower website WikiLeaks, has exposed the secrets of America that many US government officials contend those information should not be made public because it will endanger many lives.

In traditional newspapers and news channels -- which are mostly controlled and managed by corporate houses -- journalists have to follow certain protocols or guidelines in deciding what stories/feed to cover and what to ignore, but today, technology has changed it all. Now, any individual can build his own website/portal/blog by using the Internet and if he knows how to gather information and report it to the public, he can serve it as an independent source of news and opinion.

Today, bloggers (the new crop of ‘journalists’) are fearlessly exposing corruption and acting as whistleblowers. They are individuals, having no burden of being affiliated to corporate houses, express and exchange their views through blogs and internet groups.

The example of WikiLeaks and the emerging trend of blogging, social networking and tweeting have definitely changed the rule of disseminating information.

(The writer can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Southpaws summon for the rightminded

By Raza Elahi

What is common among former US presidents Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? To tease you further Paul McCartney, Prince Charles, Queen Victoria and Oprah Winfrey also belong to the same common club.

If you have thought the answer “they are all left-handed”, right on. These famous men and women are among the thousands of left-handers who have left their mark on the world.

Tomorrow (August 13) is International Left-Handers’ Day, a day meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world. There are some left-hander handicaps like guitar, violin, camera, sewing machine, scissors and classroom chairs etc.

But southpaws, who form 10 percent of the world's population, have made a strong case for being smarter, showing more leadership qualities and intelligence than the vast right-handed majority. According to experts, the right side of the brain is more capable of multi-tasking. Left-handed people use the right side of their brain, which means ‘lefties’ are thought to be good at music, art, creativity, perception, emotions, genius, and even sports, in what is known as the holistic thinking mode.

Dr Alan Searleman, from St Lawrence University in New York, has gathered evidence on the link between left-handedness and intellectual creativity and has discovered that they have a higher ‘fluid intelligence, a better vocabulary and are better at problem-solving.

The left-handers form an exclusive club. Some of the big names of history, politics, literature and entertainment are left-handers – Julias Ceaser, Pabalo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Daylan, Alexander the Great, Napolean Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison, Paul McCartney and many more, including our very own Amitabh Bachchan.

Many people may not know that the US has had five left-handed presidents since 1974 –Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The high ratio of left-handers who climb to the top of the US political ladder is all the more baffling, when one considers that only 10-12% of Americans write with their left hands. Even the ranks of vice-presidents or unsuccessful contenders for the White House are heavy with left-handers. John McCain, Al Gore, Bob Dole, John Edwards and Ross Perot were all lefties.

It is certainly not a left-handed compliment!

(The writer, who is also a left-hander, can be contacted at elahi.raza82@gmail.com)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Brishti pore tapur tupur

By Raza Elahi

After hot and humid summer when monsoon sets in, it brings back relief, joy and cheers around the corner. In India, everybody has his own style to enjoy the rainy season. Succulent jamuns, irresistible bhuttas, garma garam chai and pokaras are inseparable part of the monsoon and so is the romance with poetry during the season.

Whether it is Bangla lori Brishti pore tapur tupur; node elo baan,baaner jole bhaslo pukur, bhaslo golar dhaan or Hindi movie song Rim jhim ke tarane leke aayi barsaat, rain and poetry always move hand-in-hand.

Famous poet Mirza Ghalib often sought to give up drinks, but like an intelligent man he made exceptions when he said:
Ghalib chhuti sharab, par ab bhi kabhi kabhi
Peeta hoon roz-e-abr shab-e-mahtaab mein

(Ghalib, I gave up drink but even now sometimes I drink on a cloudy day and on moonlit night)

Another Urdu poet Faiz was not far behind when he said:
Aaye kuch abr, kuch sharaab aye
Uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye

(Let there be some clouds, and let wine come. After that let any disaster come).

Kalidas visualized monsoon clouds as messengers who carried affection and desire to and fro between separated lovers. And years later, Majrooh Sultanpuri described the same feeling of separated lovers when he penned lyrics for movie “Dharti Kahe Pukaar ke”:

Jaa re kare badra balam ke pass,
woh hain aise buddhu ke samjhe na payaas

Rain songs are always been there in Hindi cinema. While lyricist Yogesh wrote rim jhim gire sawaan for film “Manzil”, Jawed Akhtar penned rimjhim, rum-jhum, rum-jhum, Bheegi bheegi rut mein, tum-hum, hum tum … for “1942: A Love Story.”

There are quite a few directors in the Bollywood who have captured the mood of monsoon through beautiful lyrics and superb music. Songs like Barsaat main hum se mile tum; zindagi bhar nahin bhoolenge woh barsaat ki raat; Payaar hua iqrar hua and the title song of aaya sawan jhum ke are a few among others which signify monsoon as a season of celebration and joy.

However, for some rain is a time for remeberance and despair as far as this couplet of a poet is concerned:

Yun barastain hain tasauvvar pe purani yaadein
Jaise barsaat main rim jhim ka samna hota hai

(Old memories fall on the surface of my mind, like raindrops in monsoon)

But, the mood really becomes sombre if one hears Mohmmad Rafi’s
Sawaan ke mahine mein,
ek aag si seeney mein lagti hai to pee leta hoon,
do char ghari jee leta hoon


Monday, July 5, 2010

Can India afford to ignore Islamic banking?

By Raza Elahi
The recent statement of MS Swaminathan, the father of green revolution in India, that Islamic banking can be a solution for farmers’ suicide in Vidarbha is apt reply to those opposing it tooth and nail by terming this banking system as anti-economic growth.

It is truth, nothing but truth, that exorbitant lending rates charged by moneylenders have created a vicious cycle of debt and suicide not only in Vidarbha, but also in several parts of the country. Islamic banking, which propagates zero-interest lending, can solve not only farmers’ suicide crisis but will also fill the gap between financially-excluded and financially-included classes of the country.

In 2008, Raghuram Rajan Committee recommended interest-free banking in the country to encourage financial inclusion, but nothing much has been done in this direction. The initiative taken by the Kerala government in this regard is sub judice.

The financially-excluded class, which includes small farmers, landless labourers, self-employed, minorities and women, forms around 60% of the country’s population. They do not have access to formal banking. They find it difficult to meet the demand of pre-determined interest rates. If finance is available without the burden caused by pre-determined interest rates, it will be a far-reaching implication for the socio-economic and educational uplift of the masses.

The main objective of Islamic finance is to create a society of investors, unlike the conventional banking system, which has made and created the society of borrowers and lenders from the past 800 years. Islamic banking regards the public interest above all other motives. According to the Islamic banking concept, the banks involve themselves in real time trading or investment activities with their customers based on various contracts like Mudarabah (partnership), Musharaka (joint venture), Murabaha (cost-plus), Ijara (leasing) and some hybrids combining two contracts (Musharaka Mutanaqisa) etc, and therefore earn profit. All the products that these banks offer are Sharia-compliant. A Sharia board decides or monitors what sort of investments the banks can make.

Furthermore, Islamic banking in India will not only be beneficial for the marginalised and the minorities in terms of microfinance, but can also attract major investment from the Gulf countries. The UK and France have made necessary regulatory changes in order to attract these investments.

Islamic banking industry, which is operating for the past 30 years in the Middle Eastern countries, has gained popularity and curiosity around the globe during the financial crisis of 2008. Despite the financial turmoil that crippled so many large Western institutions, Islamic banks continued to grow in prominence and size.

According to a survey conducted by The Asian Banker, a Singapore-based publication last year, the combined assets of world’s 100 top Islamic banks increased 66% in 2008, bucking the trend of slow growth in other markets. Asia’s 300 largest banks, for example, only grew assets 13.4% in the same period. Now, many financial experts are seeing Islamic banking as an alternative to the conventional banking system, which is based on stronger regulatory regimes and a better international understanding of its dynamics.

It is a misconception that Islamic finance is just a Muslim-only affair. For all the Shariah-compliant products sold in countries such as Malaysia, around 40% of clients are non-Muslims. Around 20% customers of Islamic banks in Britain are non-Muslims. Manfred Dirrheimer, chairman of the executive board, FWU AG, a German financial services company, recently told Arab News, “For all the Shariah-compliant products we sell in countries such as Malaysia, some 70% of our clients are non-Muslim."

In India, SEBI has permitted Shariah-compliant financial products such as mutual funds, but still many steps, including necessary banking regulatory changes, are required to establish full-fledge Islamic banking in the country. The delay, it seems, is a bit longer. When London, Tokya Singapore and Hong Kong could become hub and house of Islamic finance, then why not Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Cochin?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lost history of Muslim scholars

By Raza Elahi
At a time when the relationship between Muslims and the West seems mainly defined by mistrust and misunderstanding, and Islam being dubbed as incompatible with modernity, it may not be wrong to remind the world that it were the Muslim scholars through various stages of Islamic civilization who had played a great role in shaping up modern society.

Islam’s invitation to explore and search made Muslims interested in astronomy, geography, mathematics, chemistry and medicines etc, and they had a firm knowledge of these subjects, centuries before the new world order of West. Scholars like Ibn Sina, Al-Haytham, Al-Khwarizmi, Ibn Rushd, Omar Khayyam and Ibn Batuta etc dazzled the world with their findings and literary works between 8th and 14th century.

In fact, the early advancements of Muslims in science and culture had laid the foundation of the European Renaissance and the Enlightenment. MN Roy in his book Historical Role of Islam has pointed out that European Renaissance would not have been possible but for the Arabs who preserved Greek knowledge and passed it on to Europe.

In the Middle Ages, when Europe was engaged in superstitions and feudal chaos, Baghdad was the intellectual centre of the world. Muslim scholars studied the ancient civilisations from Greece and Rome and combined them with their creative ideas and thoughts. The works of Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras and others were translated into Arabic. In the libraries of 9th-centuries Baghdad, known as ‘House of Wisdom’, many of the great classical treatises were preserved as Arabic texts and reintroduced to Europe centuries later after the originals were lost. Besides Baghdad, Samarqand, Bukhara, Cairo, Istanbul and Damascus were the centres of learning which produced an army of scientists and thinkers.

Today, many people may not know that algebra and the Arabic numerals were introduced to the world by Muslim mathematicians, who made significant progress in number theory and also invented the symbol for zero. The word “cipher” comes from Arabic word sifr. It was Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 CE) who invented the algebra. The very name algebra is derived from his book Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabila, which was further developed by others, most notably by Omar Khayyam.

The man who first advised the treatment of cancer in its earliest stages by removing the diseased tissues was Ibn Sina. Born in 980 CE in Bukhara, he did an extensive study of human anatomy, infectious diseases and cancer etc. The Qanun was his most famous work, which introduced over 700 drugs and their applications. Another genius Ibn Al-Haytham’s (965-1040 CE) contributions to optics and other scientific methods were outstanding. He contradicted Ptolemy and Elucid’s theories of vision that objects are seen by rays of light emanating from the eyes. According to him, the rays originate in the object of vision and not in the eye. He also wrote about the attraction of masses some 600 years before Galileo and Issac Newton. Writer Michael H Morgan commented in his book Lost History, “Considering the earliness of his work and the limits of his time, Ibn Al-Haytham must be considered an equal of Einstein though largely lost to history.”

Generally, Copernicus is lauded as the father of modern astronomy, but his theory of the planets is identical to that of Ibn Al-Shatir, who preceded Copernicus by more than a century. Muslim astronomers, who correctly calculated the circumference of the globe in the tenth century, also invented astrolabe, quadrant, and other navigational devices and a world map. It is also taught that Robert Boyle originated the science of chemistry in 17th century. But Al Razi, Al-Kindi and Al-Biruni performed scientific experiments in chemistry some 700 years prior to Boyle. Similarly, Ibn Batuta’s (1304-1368) contribution to geography is as important as that of any other geographer. In his lifetime, he traveled around 75,000 miles, much more than Marco Polo.

Further, it was Arabs who first introduced crop rotation practice in Holland. From Holland, the practice went to England. The result was agriculture revolution in England. Robert Briffault has written in The Making of Humanity that manifold influences from Islamic civilization communicated its first glow to European life. Mark Graham has summed up well in How Islam Created the Modern World, when he says: “At the dawn of the Renaissance, Christian Europe was wearing Persian clothes, singing Arab songs, reading Spanish Muslim philosophy and eating off Mamluk Turkish brassware.”

Such is the varied history of Islamic civilizations, Muslims and their modern outlook. Knowledge, the main pillar of modernity, and Islam has always been together. The Qur'an and the Sunnah (Prophet Muhammad’s traditions) encourage Muslims to seek knowledge and be scholars. Prophet Mohammad has said that in seeking knowledge one might go even far as China. The word Ilm (knowledge) is mentioned in the Qur’an more than 700 times. There can be no better association between any religion and learning than this.
However, it is sad that Islam, who taught the world how to live well and think clearly, is being labeled as orthodox, and the inventions and discoveries done by Muslims are now part of the lost world.