Friday, February 02, 2007

The more things change . . . .

Some days it feels impossible to write a blog that’s supposed to be mostly about religion. Other days, it’s absurdly easy:
Mayor [of Macon, Georgia] Jack Ellis has converted to Islam and is working to change his legal name to Hakim Mansour Ellis.

Ellis, 61, a Macon native who was raised Christian, said he became a Sunni Muslim during a December ceremony in the west African nation of Senegal. . . .

Ellis, whose mayoral term expires this year, said he hasn't calculated how his religious conversion might affect him politically. He said he is proud to live in a country founded on religious freedom.
From Time. Let’s sit back and wait for Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck, The National Review Online, and Dennis Prager to start screeching their tired, idiotic bigotry about how Mayor Ellis’s conversion is a threat to the nation. It won’t take long. What's interesting is that part of the reason Ellis gave for his conversion is that his ancestors practiced Islam in Africa. So is his conversion something radically new, or is it a return to ancient roots?

Relatedly, the folks at Chapati Mystery have posted an excellent open letter to Barack Obama about his response to the bogus Madrasa story:
I was hoping that the response would not be to proclaim the horror of being insinuated a “Muslim” (Is it really such a terrible shame that one was born a Muslim?). I was hoping that you’d point out that the word “Madrasa” simply means “school”. . . . You could have simply said, ‘While I am a Christian, I resent the implications in being branded a terrorist-sympathizer merely by association with Muslims. There is no direct correlation between a Muslim and a terrorist despite the demonizing efforts of certain groups. . . .’

Instead, your campaign sought to play the defensive card. To stress your Christian creditability and to proclaim a vehement distancing from anything “Muslim”. To simply call this story “a malicious and irresponsible charge” at you is wrong. It is “a malicious and irresponsible charge” at the millions of Muslim Americans and billions of Muslims around the world. You may have been the target of this mis-information but the victims are Muslims who must now defend their culture, belief and heritage, while living in America.
Chapati Mystery. I can understand why Obama reacted the way he did. There's no hiding from the sad reality that, for reasons too numerous to list, any hint of Islam is totally radioactive in our current political environment. Still, Chapati Mystery has a point. The most courageous response would have pointed out the barefaced bigotry of the alleged charge.

Finally, Michael Dorf and company at Dorf on Law pose (!) the question whether teaching yoga in public school is unconstitutional. Long ago, you might remember, the OG blogged about whether yoga positions could be copyrighted.

To follow up on the Bikram Yoga copyright story, it seems India is fighting back against Bikram Choudhury's attempts to monopolize the knowledge produced by ancient India by establishing a digital database of the traditional knowledge of India available to all in the public domain:
In response, India has put 100 historians and scientists to work cataloging 1,500 yoga poses recorded in ancient texts written in Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. India will use the catalogue to try to block anyone from cornering the market on the 5,000-year-old discipline of stretching, breathing and meditating. . . .

The government wants to thwart anyone who tries to profit from the nation's so-called "traditional knowledge," from yoga to 150,000 ancient medical remedies. India already has successfully challenged one U.S. patent granted to two Indian-born Americans who used the spice turmeric in a wound-healing product. That patent was revoked by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"Practically every Indian housewife knows (turmeric) and uses it to heal wounds," says V.K. Gupta of India's National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources, which is developing the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library.

When completed, perhaps as soon as December, the digital library will be translated into English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese and sent to patent, copyright and trademark offices around the world.

That way, when someone such as Bikram tries to get a copyright on yoga moves or patents on ancient medicinal cures, those offices could say: "No, that's not original. They've been doing it in India for thousands of years."
USA Today. See also BBC article on the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library. The traditional knowledge of India belongs to all: open source of the ancients.


Kris said...

Don't get me started on the Bikram guy. What a nut job.

Kris said...

This is pretty humorous:

Toddy said...

1. I am always skeptical of things taken up purely in the name of this-is what-my-ancestors-did. Its like rennaissance fairs, drinking "mead" and the loss of perspective. I am not saying there is no place for this. It just makes me cringe momentarily. I am however, all for making a political career ending decision. Yessir, stir it up Mr. Mayor. And do it Muslim style since there are few ways to stir things up more considerably in this environment of fear.

2. I was kind of hoping it wasn't a hoax. It would be great to have a Presidential candidate with that sort of background. His reaction to the hoax seems to be in line with his immature campaign so far. That camp seems so interested in putting out potential fires they are doomed to lose any opportunities to gain any sort of real high ground.

3. 9 years ago my wife and I moved into an apartment across the street from a Bikram studio and my wife really got into it for a while. She pulled me in for a month or two and we enjoyed super hot yoga together. After a while my wife started to have odd aches and pains, especially in her joints and back and I started to think it was because of the yoga that would push her body to extremes. She is already a very flexible person and I felt that the classes were less about finding the edge of ability and working past that edge and more about just blowing past it without control. She stopped going to the class and her aches went away. To me, Bikram Yoga is a bad idea.
After watching that 60 minutes segment, I actually found myself agreeing with Bikram though. That whole music/notes argument almost works. But then I wonder if that argument just preys on Western misconceptions of yoga. Besides, what if someone tried to copyright a series with pushups and situps and jumping jacks? I would laugh in their face.

Octopus Grigori said...

kris: Totally. Ha.

toddy: Good point. I'm hoping India beats Bikram.

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