I’ll leave it at that for now. Hope all of you stuck out there get back home safe, sound and happy in the knowledge that somehow you’ve contributed to making our planet more habitable. The coming generations shall be grateful.
The last couple of months have seen intense debate on European society’s openness towards Muslim immigrants. Following the Swiss ban on minarets and the French proposal to ban the burqa in public life, fears have been expressed over the exclusion of Muslims from European social and political life. Politicians have gained enormous capital by channeling fears over Islam and immigrants, and populist measures such as the burqa ban in France.
Which begs the question: does Europe have a problem with Islam? Are European politics and society inherently at-odds with the values of their Muslim citizens? One thing is clear: European politics has become increasingly obsessed with controlling and regimenting its Muslim citizens. The successful campaign in Switzerland to ban minarets, as well as the growing influence of far-right politicians in Austria and the Netherlands are testimony to the popular appeal of anti-Islam populism in Europe.
Winter School 2009 took place last weekend in the national park of the Karkonosze Mountains, Poland. The First Years and anybody else who chose to attend, were put up in two huts, Samotnia and Strzecha, located 500 metres from each other, with the nearest city of Karpacz situated a good 1.5 hour walk through the snow-covered mountains. Given the circumstance, making a quick and painless get-away from the place is near impossible. The logic then for the remote choice of location, as explained by Poldi, is somewhat tautological: Making a quick and painless get away from the Winter School is near impossible. The resulting corollary is that everyone must spend all their time with each other. If you have any doubts about such a model of integration, of forced companionship amongst poor, unsuspecting students from all possible backgrounds, the Winter School is the place to be. Surprisingly enough, the model works.
Successfully into its Second Year, the School continues to be a place of great learning alongside intellectual and physical stimulation for its participants. Informally however, it has has been in existence for a much longer time. A strong indicator of its continuing popularity is the fact that students and teachers alike have unabashedly fallen in love with the place, expressing ardent wishes for a continued association with it: these range widely from wanting to be buried there to wanting to be married in the hallowed precincts of Samotnia. Although wry bystanders have marked there might not be much difference between the two.
While reading Pardeep Singh Attri’s account of his experiences as a Dalit activist traveling in Hungary in the brilliant Insight Young Voices blog, I was struck by the similarity of the plight of Hungarian Romas and the Dalits ( regarded as Untouchables) in India. Both groups are victims of deep and persisting discriminations arising from their historical status in society. What struck me even more though was the appropriation of the ideas B. R Ambedkar by the Roma in their struggle for equal rights. Writes Pradeep:
One of the most interesting facts that Derdak Tibor informed me was that his group of Roma activists and community leaders in Hungary derive their inspiration from Babasaheb Ambedkar and Buddhism and trying to inculcate Ambedkarite thoughts in their movement towards equal rights for the Roma community. They have created a support network called Jai Bhim Network, embraced Buddhism and opened an high school in the name of Dr Ambedkar High School for the Roma children in Hungary.
Roma activists find their situation in the otherwise ‘white’ Hungary almost akin to the Dalits of India and therefore they now call their community, ‘the Dalits of Europe’ as the Romas are also found in other European countries too and face the similar prejudices and discrimination every where.
I spent a large part of today watching Prof. Ian Buruma’s brilliant lecture series at Princeton university entitled ‘No Divine Rights: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents’ which I am posting here. Buruma is a scholar of great versatility. His subjects range from a fictional-biography of an Indian cricketer-prince, to works on European and Japanese history. In this lecture series he tackles the relation between state and religion in America, Asia and Europe, in which he makes extremely revelatory connections between religion and state in different societies. All the lectures here are extremely interesting especially for students of global history.
Buruma’s assessment of how elitism, liberalism and democracy interacted with religion in Europe is particularly informative. Throughout the series he is concerned with the changes affecting Europe, which he addresses directly in his last lecture posted here. His views on the changing meaning of the Enlightenment, the role of language in forming identities amongst immigrants and his examination of the kulturkampf between Europe and Islam is deeply informed, as is evident from the range of his examples, and deeply relevant.
Update: Also posting the other two lectures in the series: