Dallas Observer - Across the Great Divide
A Presentation of MikeGhouse.Com | A Website for Desi Americans
Across the Great Divide
Bitterly separated at home, Dallas' Indian and Pakistani communities search for common ground
Don't expect any rich, dulcet tones emanating from Mike Ghouse as he begins his talk show this and every Sunday afternoon. His voice sounds hoarse, his accent halting, though his will to communicate is strong. His skin glistens from the scorching July heat that intrudes upon Plano-based radio station KYNG-AM (950) because it lacks air conditioning on weekends. Yet Ghouse prefers to stand for the next three hours, burying his cherubic face into the microphone, swilling bottled water and challenging his community to call.
The station's target audience is the "Desi" community, first- and second-generation immigrants who came to America from the Asian subcontinent--India and Pakistan, mostly--where the word Desi is slang for countryman. That enemies who have been killing each other en masse for religious (Hindu/Muslim) and geopolitical reasons might feel connected here by community is as much a testament to the American dream as it is the cultural ties that bind: food (Indo-Pak), sports (cricket), movies (Bollywood) and similar languages (Hindi/Urdu).
"We are talking about very critical issues facing India," Ghouse tells his listeners. "But prior to opening up the phone lines, I will have the Indian national anthem go on the air." He turns to his sound engineer. "Madhu, if you please." Ghouse, who came to this country from Southern India, feels no compunction about belting out "Jana Gana Mana," although some of his listeners may wish he did. But like many of his gestures, the words come from his heart, and only one caller will register a complaint.
"Well, friends, the time has come to talk about the most controversial, burning issue in India, and raging debates is the norm of the day. No Indian has remained untouched by the issue of Ayodya," he says. That controversy stems from a "small patch of land" that Hindus believe to be the birthplace and temple of Lord Ram, the incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. About 500 years ago, a marauding Mogul came to the town of Ayodya, tore down the Ram temple and built a mosque in its place--or so Hindus believe. The Hindu nationalist movement sees the restoration of the temple as a way to repair the wounded Hindu psyche damaged by centuries of Arab and British domination. In 1992, fundamentalist elements within that movement destroyed the mosque, and Hindus and Muslims have been fighting, excavating and litigating ever since. The ensuing communal violence has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and whipped up such a xenophobic froth that for the first time in India's secular history, a Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been catapulted to power.
"Kudos to the Indian democracy that they are debating this issue," says Ghouse, who ignores his ringing cell phone. "The inherent values of democracy are within us, and the Hindu culture, with its heritage of pluralism, and the Islamic religion, with its ideals of equality. You have to be proud of it." He only hopes the local Desi community will show the same degree of openness. "I was called twice this week and told not to do this show because it breeds conflicts. Friends, we can't run away from conflicts; we have to face them."
The phone lines light up, but no one screens the calls; there is no seven-second delay to censor the crazies. One caller repeatedly sets off his car alarm; another impersonates a cat. "All opinions are welcome," Ghouse repeats. "I will take opinions that are intelligent, extreme or just dumb. I respect everyone's opinion, and I will air it."
Sounds of sitar, flute and drums fade in as Ghouse plays what he calls his signature song. He is a pluralist to a fault, an Indian who is married to a Pakistani, a Muslim who regularly visits the local Hindu temple, a father who is proud that his two American-born children are making their own religious choices: "One is a Baptist, and the other is wavering between Hindu and Baha'i," he says.
He takes a moment to answer his cell phone, which has been ringing repeatedly since he signed on. It's the station's baby-faced CEO, Rehan Siddiqi, who at 25 runs Asian Media Worldwide, which operates this and another Dallas Desi station. He warns Ghouse to be careful. "Both the India Association and the Pakistan Society [North Texas cultural organizations] are recording the show," he says.
"I'm glad," Ghouse replies confidently.
"Try not to offend anyone."
"Absolutely. I could do this in my sleep without offending anyone."
But that seems nearly impossible. The Desi community, although outwardly cohesive, is far too complex and diverse to speak with one voice. Wrapped in its opinions are the pains of old wounds, transported here from Pakistan and India, from the mosque or the temple, dating at least to 1947, when the Indian subcontinent gained its independence from Great Britain and Pakistan partitioned itself from India to form an Islamic state. Mahatma Gandhi and his many followers were opposed to partition and wanted a greater India for all religions, constructing a constitution framed around the values of secularism. By some estimates, millions perished in religious riots as great migrations of people sorted themselves by religion from one country to the other: Muslims in Pakistan, Hindus in India, although more than 130 million Muslims remain in India today.
But old hatreds die hard, and some emotional baggage has been transplanted in this country. So when Muslim extremists murder Hindus in Kashmir, or India and Pakistan stare down each other with nuclear weapons, or thousands of Muslims are killed in riots by Hindu mobs in the Indian state of Gujarat, repercussions fan throughout the Desi diaspora as well.
Capitalism is a great salve, and Desi-Americans would rather focus on New World successes: their notable advances in education, their entrepreneurial zeal, the better lives they have made for themselves and their children. How much better to bridge those differences with noble enterprises such as FunAsiA, a Richardson for-profit cultural center that shows movies from Bombay (Bollywood), serves Indo-Pak food and offers Hindus and Muslims a place to celebrate events such as engagements and weddings. How much better to focus on festivals and traditions, which can offer some cultural clarity for their children, who can find no place in their emerging American identities for their parents' politics and whom some glibly call ABCDs--American-Born Confused Desis. How much better to focus on the game of cricket, where the playing field is level for Indian- and Pakistani-Americans and athleticism transcends religion and politics.
"These are only gestures," says Rashid Dara, president of the Pakistan Society of North Texas. "Our emotions are mild here. We want to be politically correct. But unless we address the root cause of the discontentment in our homelands, there will always be unspoken and unseen discontentment between us."
They came as soon as they could--doctors and medical students, scientists and engineers--part of the first wave of Desi immigration permitted by the United States in 1965 to fill shortages in the medical field. They came seeking jobs and education, and with the idea that they might make enough money to go back to the subcontinent. But when seduced by the opportunities this country afforded them, many gave up all thoughts of return. Instead, they sent for their relatives, some of whom were less educated and affluent, but many of whom were entrepreneurial as hell. They drove cabs or worked in convenience or dollar stores; they ran gas stations and motels until they could afford to buy them.
"It's a very common narrative, particularly in the motel business," says Pawan Dhingra, a professor of sociology at Oberlin College in Ohio who wrote his doctoral dissertation on second-generation Asian-Americans in Dallas. "They worked hard, lived for free on the premises, pooled their assets with other family members so they could buy one motel and then another. That's why approximately 40 percent of all motels in the U.S. are owned by Indian-Americans."
Although the '80s saw a gradual buildup in the local Desi community, by far the largest wave of migration came with the high-tech boom of the '90s. The magnet of Richardson's Telecom Corridor drew Desis to this area in droves. Their numbers practically doubled in a decade: 50,000 Pakistanis, 110,000 Indians, several thousand families from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka combined.
They came with all their historic rivalries, which, over time, began to lose their emotional punch. "The whole saga reopens when we migrate to the West," says Dr. Anantha Babbili, dean of the College of Mass Communications at Middle Tennessee State University and formerly a professor of journalism at Texas Christian University. "Do we bring our historical baggage? Or do we re-establish ourselves here in the truest sense of what Hindus and Muslims were before the British divided us by religion: two tolerant cultures who peacefully coexisted?"
Ghouse says he chose the latter because it was what he had known as a child. He was born in the Indian state of Karnataka to Muslim parents, but his father was the mayor of the small town where they resided and "a real secular guy." Mike celebrated Christmas with his Christian neighbors, went to temple with his father's best friend, a Hindu, and drank tea in his home with untouchables, the lowest caste in the Indian culture. As a boy, he wrote poetry and short stories railing against prejudice, some of which were published in Indian magazines. During his college years in the '60s, he fell away from religion altogether, fashioning himself an atheist. "I was always a free bird." Never enamored of the socialistic tendencies of the ruling National Congress Party, he ached to move to America, partly, he says, because "I was a capitalist from day one."
An accountant who disliked being one, he nevertheless seized an opportunity to become an assistant comptroller in Saudi Arabia for a petrochemical engineering firm. He grew close to an American colleague from Richardson, who agreed to sponsor his visa application, which enabled him to come to this country as a student in 1980. Living with his friend in Richardson, he began working on his MBA at the University of Dallas. He didn't join the Desi community, however, associating more with Americans, particularly after he started dating a Pentecostal woman whom he would marry in 1981.
Many Desis wouldn't dare marry outside their faith, much less date. "There are still some arranged marriages, even today," says Dr. Caroline Brettell, the chairman of anthropology at Southern Methodist University who is currently researching the local Indian-American community. "Parents place ads in Indian newspapers from the larger communities in New York or Chicago. Caste and hierarchy are so embedded in the culture, they hope to arrange a marriage based on background, similar values and traditions."
Even those who don't go the traditional arranged marriage route still may insist on elements of it. "Parents may introduce you to a family who has someone to marry," Oberlin College's Dhingra says. "You may date them for a while but have the option not to marry. The decision will be yours." At a minimum, most Indian-Americans who grow up here want to marry other Indian-Americans, Dhingra says. They may seek them out on the Internet or through organizations such as the Network of Indian Professionals of North America, which sponsors business and social events. Parental approval, however, is still a big priority. And the idea of a Hindu-Muslim marriage is an arrangement seldom blessed.
"Both of my sons [ages 27 and 29] live with me, and if either brought home a girl who was not Hindu," says local Indian-American businessman Kundan Sharma, "I would throw them out of my house."
Ghouse and his wife did suffer discrimination as a mixed couple, but from the mainstream rather than the Desi community. In one incident, they were shopping for houses and entered a model home. The real estate agent refused to acknowledge their presence. Ghouse put his checkbook on the woman's desk, but she still didn't take notice. "That is what propelled me to get into the real estate business myself," he says.
Focusing on his career and children, he slowly drifted apart from his wife, and in 1993, he received something that is also frowned upon by the Desi community: a divorce. He found himself drawn back to spirituality, although no one religion held all the answers for him. "Deep down inside, I was attracted to the essence of Christianity, which is forgiveness, the essence of Islam, which is equality for mankind, and the essence of Hinduism, whose philosophy of tolerance enables you to define for yourself what God means to you. I didn't see any conflict in anything."
He was also drawn to the Desi community after he began doing real estate deals with a group of local Indian-American businessmen. He became a member of the India Association of North Texas, a nonprofit organization whose mission is "to serve the cultural and educational needs of the North Texas Indian community." Its Indian Independence Day celebration, this year held on August 16, has become one of the premier ethnic festivals in the city. What was lacking, Ghouse decided, was a local newspaper that would meet the needs of the entire Desi community. He began the Asian News in 1994, which offered little more than a calendar of events, "a what's-going-on at the temple and the mosque." But after he renamed it the Asian American Journal, it became a monthly magazine with some bite, spiced by Ghouse's running commentaries on the events of the day.
"I told people to disregard old political conflicts and regional boundaries. I promoted people-to-people connections," he says. "The Pakistanis didn't trust what I was saying, and I am not sure the Indians did either."
Ghouse also wrote articles about cricket, which, although a vestige of British colonial rule, remained a fierce passion for the Desi diaspora. He made its reincarnation in Dallas one of his goals. It didn't matter if you were Indian or Pakistani, from Nepal or Bangladesh, cricket was the great equalizer. What mattered was the ability of the batsman to score (a lot) or the bowler to pitch (fast); what mattered was that on the cricket field, politics and religion didn't matter. For Ghouse, it was the perfect pluralistic pastime, and as the president of the North Texas Cricket Association, he would become the sport's ambassador to the rest of the city.
Ghouse grew his magazine's circulation to 10,000 and its size to 70 pages, but after five years he closed the enterprise, tiring of running it with his own money. "I wasn't much of a bill collector," he says. Instead, in 1996, he turned his attention to producing a local television show, Desi TV, which aired as a 30-minute program on Channel 52, then a Spanish-language station. He hired Najma Rahman, a Pakistani medical technician, to anchor the news portion of the program, and they became close friends. "The food she prepared and the way my mother prepared it were identical," he says. "We enjoyed the same old Indian movies, and one day, even though we were not romantically involved, I asked her to be my partner." She encouraged him to speak with her parents, which he did, and her father immediately announced their engagement. Ghouse created a bit of a scandal at the mosque, he says, when he asked two Hindu friends to witness his Muslim wedding. Although the TV show lasted only six months ("I was neglecting my real estate business," he says), their marriage continues to this day.
Almost immediately, he would attempt another media format, this time in talk radio, airing a program (currently heard on KBIS 1150 AM) about every aspect of the Desi culture. But he reserved his loudest grievances for the emerging Hindu nationalist government in India, which he believed was destroying India's secular soul. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association, or RSS) had devoted itself to the creation of a Hindu state for India, decades before one of its fanatical members assassinated Gandhi for what was perceived as his capitulation to Muslims in the creation of Pakistan.
In a Hindustan India, according to RSS dogma, only Hindus would be given full citizenship, while Muslims and Christians would be accorded second-class status or be treated as the trespassers they once were. Anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan and anti-Christian, the RSS wants superpower status for India, pushing a nuclear agenda and insisting on a subservient Pakistan. Inventing itself as a patriotic organization, the RSS found its political wings in the BJP, which came to power in 1998 after the National Congress Party of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, was rocked by scandal and disintegrated as a national force.
"It would be as if the Pat Robertsons and the Jerry Falwells had suddenly taken over the Republican Party," says Dr. Babbili. "Their numbers are small, but they exert a great deal of influence."
Because the BJP received roughly 20 percent of the vote in India, it has been forced to form a more centrist coalition and has back-burnered some of its more nationalistic ambitions, including the rebuilding of the Ram temple in Ayodya. But the temple is its shibboleth, and BJP's top leaders have been accused of inciting riots over the issue to further their political ambitions. India's hard-line Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has faced charges that he provoked riots in 1992 after he led a pilgrimage that destroyed the mosque and resulted in the loss of more than a thousand lives, most of them Muslim. Just last year, Hindus in Gujarat, an RSS and BJP stronghold, went on a savage rampage after Muslim extremists allegedly set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists. Nearly 60 Hindus were killed aboard the train, and more than 2,000 Muslims died in the ensuing riots, which included vicious killings marked by decapitation, disembowelment and rape. Human rights groups and press reports claimed that local police did nothing to stop the mayhem and may have participated. To date no one has been held accountable, and the Hindu nationalist response has been unconscionably provocative and anti-Muslim. India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a Hindu nationalist moderate who still belongs to RSS, offered similar sentiments in his response to worldwide criticism by saying, "No one should teach us about secularism."
But Mike Ghouse just couldn't oblige him. He went on his radio show and spoke out against the intolerance and the bloodshed, which he felt were stoked by "dirtbag politicians" who were politicizing religion for their own selfish gain. He sent graphic news reports of the atrocities in Gujarat to the 8,500 people on his e-mail list. He urged the India Association of North Texas to take a stance condemning terrorism in India, no matter who was being targeted--Muslims, Hindus or Christians. He claimed "the good guys of the India Association" were being led by a few behind-the-scenes "bullies" who sympathized with the BJP agenda and were forcing the organization to "maintain an evil silence."
Prasad Thotakura, then the president of the India Association, believes that Ghouse was out of line as well as out of control. "We are a non-political, non-religious organization. This is a political issue, and we don't say yea or nay on political issues," he says. "Thousands of Indians are being killed in Kashmir, and we didn't release any press statements condemning the violence. When Christians got raped and murdered in India, we didn't issue any press statements. When there is a communal clash, we need to be fair and impartial."
Bonding organizations such as the India Association see part of their mission as integrating themselves into the Anglo mainstream, which they hope to accomplish "by putting their community in a positive light," SMU's Brettell says. "So you want to present a united front and avoid the divisiveness of hot-button issues."
As part of that united front, it may be easier to rationalize the BJP as a source of Hindu pride rather than the swelling of Hindu fundamentalism. It may be easier to dismiss those extremists as an unenlightened few who will shortly be out of power rather than the fanatical wave of the future. It may be easier to minimize the fascistic fervor of the RSS by maintaining that India has always been a monument to pluralism, with more than 130 million Muslims living among the Hindu majority, who make up more than 80 percent of India's billion people. And for many locals, there may be no greater metaphor for that pluralism than the Richardson cultural center built by a diverse group of Desi businessmen: FunAsiA.
The FunAsiA audience sits in rapt catharsis, watching the latest Bollywood blockbuster Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (I am Crazy About Love). All seems to be going well for the film's spirited ingenue and the possible arranged marriage set up by her parents. Rather than chase away the unknown suitor as she had planned, she falls madly in love with him. Then suddenly the plot twists and thickens: There's been a mistake. The real object of her parents' arrangement is another man by the same name--and this other Prem is wealthier, more soulful, a better match--or so insists the ingenue's mother. After three hours of Bollywood conventions, such as colorful costuming, elaborately staged musical numbers and over-the-top acting reminiscent of the days of silent films, the mother relents and the girl gets the boy of her dreams, not her parents'.
Rebellion against arranged marriage is a popular Bollywood theme these days, and this Saturday-night crowd seems satisfied--and hungry. Many hit the snack bar, which is a far cry from the popcorn, Cokes and candy of most mainstream movie houses. Big sellers include sugar cane juice, chat (spicy fast food) and dosa (a Desi burrito). No one would dare sell hot dogs--beef or pork. To do so might offend both the Muslims, who don't eat pork, and Hindus, who hold the cow in sacred esteem. The advertisements posted over the snack bar--one promoting the India Association's India Independence Day festival, the other the Pakistan Society's Pakistani Independence Day celebration--are of equal size and stature. Even the names designating each of FunAsiA's three movie theaters--Amar (Hindu), Akbar (Muslim) and Anthony (Christian)--were chosen to further the pluralistic objectives of FunAsiA's founders.
"The idea was to make our religious and political differences a non-issue," says Farrukh Hamid, CEO of FunAsiA. "We don't see our job as bringing people toward the middle but to provide fertile ground for the middle to thrive." Truth is, Hindi, the official language of India, is remarkably similar to Urdu, the official language of Pakistan. Both Pakistanis and Indians enjoy viewing the films of Bollywood, which produces more movies than any other film industry in the world. And the spicy food of India and Pakistan, the modest nature and dress of the nations' peoples, their love of cricket, all come from a common heritage forced by British colonialism to fracture and repel. Gathering those common threads has been FunAsiA's mission, but even Hamid admits it hasn't been easy.
FunAsiA opened its doors in December 2002 to great communal concern. An introductory FunAsiA mailer featured, among other attractions, the Ghungroo Dance Club, which was marketed to young Desis looking for a safe environment to listen to modern Indian music, dance and meet friends. "Ghungroo" is a popular style of Indian jewelry, but in centuries past, "it was worn by women who entertained and danced for men," Hamid says. The club also had a bar, which served only non-alcoholic drinks, but the mere suggestion of alcohol was enough to raise the conservative hackles of many parents, who felt "we were trying to destroy the next generation by letting them party and date," Hamid says.
That form of parental control accounts for some of the second generation's identity confusion, particularly in high school when teen-agers are trying to figure out just how American or Asian they want to be. "As they grow older, that confusion sorts itself out," says sociologist Dhingra. "You can't lose sight of the fact that many Desis are very active in American politics. They are huge Dallas Cowboys fans. They follow ESPN every night. But they take great pride in their heritage, which is part of who they are but doesn't encompass all of who they are."
The Ghungroo Dance Club, however, seemed as much a cultural miscalculation as it was a business one, and only remained open for 30 days in its original form. Since that time, despite its great pains to achieve diversity on its board, FunAsiA has been slammed by some who discourage patronage by claiming, "It's a Pakistani place, or it's an Indian place," Hamid says. "What they are really doing is playing the religious card to gain an advantage for their own existing businesses."
Hamid has been forced to become politically astute, although he says he has avoided conflict in most aspects of his life. His parents lived in India before he was born and moved to Karachi, Pakistan, two years after partition. His father built a successful law practice and was among an elite cadre of lawyers who practiced in front of the Supreme Court. Although Hamid was born a Muslim, his upbringing was liberal by Islamic standards--no regular Friday prayers and enrollment in Catholic missionary schools for the best education possible.
The constant tension in Pakistan is over just how Islamic the country wants to be, and Hamid's father was a devout secularist with strong ties in left-wing political circles. When a right-wing military dictator overthrew the democratically elected but corrupt government in 1979, his father's political fortunes changed as well. The country lurched toward Islamic fundamentalism; its civil courts were transformed into religious courts (although that has since changed). The good life Hamid had known in Pakistan was threatened, particularly after his father died. "I have a suspicion it was foul play, but it was no longer safe for us to live in Pakistan." Although more moderate elements would regain power, Hamid and his family prepared to emigrate. Graduating valedictorian of his medical school class, he was accepted to continue his medical studies in Detroit.
What he left behind was a Pakistan increasingly drawn toward the Islamic fundamentalism of neighboring Afghanistan. That alliance was made more palpable because of the constant state of conflict that existed with India, which reluctantly accepts the existence of Pakistan but refuses to see it as an equal, even after both have attained nuclear status. "The militarization of Pakistan is an obsession of Indians, who see Pakistan as a prodigal son coming back to attack the parent," Dr. Babbili says. "They don't go as far as wanting to take Pakistan back, but even the Indian intelligentsia want it to be a subservient, weaker child."
After Hamid began his internship in Detroit, he could sense some friction between its Pakistani and Indian communities. Things felt more cohesive in the Dallas Desi community, particularly among the medical staff at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he became a chief resident. "I can't say there aren't going to be fanatics at both ends of the spectrum, but Dallas has a highly educated community, and that keeps division down to a minimum."
His decision to take a sabbatical from his medical practice and become part of FunAsiA came in the wake of 9/11. His two brothers, John and Shariq, who had also immigrated to Dallas, were friends with Prasad Thotakura, a Hindu who, at the time, was the president of the India Association. Together they envisioned a "hangout," a place that would not only promote the commonalities of their culture to the next generation of Desis, but would be an inviting place for mainstream Dallas to frequent. "We want people to know what the average South Asian does. He watches Bollywood movies, he goes to restaurants, he plays air hockey. He is not a terrorist who wears a turban, sits at home and makes a bomb."
Assimilation might be a laudable goal, says Rashid Dara, the president of the Pakistan Society, but he believes it's something of "a pipe dream." For Pakistani-Americans, the World Trade Center attacks were a defining moment that made their anxiety palpable, their fear contagious. "We are the most peaceful ethnic group in America," says Dara, "and yet we have become targets of hysteria and governmental intrusion." Indian-Americans, he says, have not faced the same degree of scrutiny.
Of course, that hasn't stopped him from making gestures to the Indian community, symbolic or otherwise, and he became one of the original investors in FunAsiA. But for him, every gesture will be empty unless both sides address what he believes is the genesis of their animosity: Kashmir.
The greatest obstacle to peace between India and Pakistan is Kashmir, to which both lay claim. The province was never part of British India; a Hindu maharaja instead ruled its mostly Muslim population. But when the maharaja couldn't make up his mind which country he wanted to join, both sides sent troops pouring over the border and split the province along a line of control. Somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 people have died in fighting that has sparked three wars. India blames Pakistan for sponsoring Islamic extremists who have been plucked from Pakistani poverty, instructed in Wahhabi, a fundamentalist sect of Islam whose teachings are used by radicals to justify violence, and then sent to Kashmir to wage jihad. Pakistan denies any involvement and insists that Kashmir be allowed to determine its own fate.
"Last year, at the peak of the tensions," Dara says, "when a million Indian soldiers were facing 500,000 Pakistani soldiers on the border, I asked the India Association to issue a joint statement condemning the heightened tension. They refused. If we are claiming to be above the local conflicts of our homelands, there have to be concrete steps taken."
Things such as a Bollywood movie, a cricket match or even The Mike Ghouse Show might not seem like much, but when 1,300 people swarm FunAsiA to watch a World Cup match between India and Pakistan, the Desi community becomes more galvanized. When standing-room-only crowds enjoy the mindless escape of a three-hour Bollywood movie, political and religious identities disappear. When Ghouse can convince his listeners to focus on their common biases, people who look the same and speak the same may realize, if only for a moment, that they are the same.
"Ayodya. It is an issue a lot of Indian-Americans shun talking about," Ghouse tells his radio audience. "But we must talk about it. We only know some aspects of the issue. When we learn all aspects, it brings some sort of resolution. It settles the dust in our minds, and when the dust settles, it gives clarity, peace of mind. It gives you freedom from the bondage of your prejudice."
On this issue, however, Ghouse can't resist offering his own opinion. He sees the problem as political rather than religious, exploited by Hindu extremists within the BJP to solidify their power. His idea is to defuse the problem through conciliation. "My suggestion is that Muslims should offer the land to build a temple for Ram. That is what a majority of Muslims in India feel. That is what a majority of Hindus feel. Let's not fight over an issue that is not going to help my children get education or get food on the table."
Quickly, he gulps some water and wipes a thin layer of sweat from his brow. "I will take your calls now. I will take all opinions, no matter how extreme, no matter how calm, no matter how agitated. All opinions are welcome."
dallasobserver.com | originally published: August 28, 2003
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