Saturday, 12 July 2014

Last Night I Dreamt Of Women Screaming

Last night I dreamt of women screaming
In a red-flame-lit darkness
Deep as the bowels of night
Where fires fed sparkling bright –

I dreamt of worlds crumbling
As ideologies collided
In a shower of blood and metal
And words out of books
Two  thousand years dead, perhaps, but - 

The women went on screaming.

Rockets arcing past the stars
Bombs coming down like rain
On the house and the field
The living and the slain.

And the women screamed
Clutching life-bundles to their
Nurturing breasts
Which gave forth blood and tears
As men in suits and uniform
Lectured on who was right and who was wrong

The women went on screaming.

Last night I dreamt of women screaming
While death flew above on gory wings.
And the children cried
As their mothers died.

And I saw the coins falling, falling
In a shower of gold, new coins on old
Blood-flecked in the blood-coloured night
As they fell, forever, out of sight
Still I could hear the coins falling.

Last night I heard the women screaming
And it was not
Merely dreaming.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2014





Raghead: Operation Destroy Everything





Copyright B Purkayastha 2014


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Once Upon A Time In Bunglistan


There was a king. He wasn’t much of a king. His realm extended from the river on one side of the villages to the palm trees across the rice paddies on the other. He had no army, no golden chariot, not even a treasury full of gold. But he was still a king.

This king had a son. The prime minister also had a son, as did the general in charge of the palace guard. The three boys grew up together and were the best of friends.

One day, an old mendicant sage came to the palace. Like all of his sort, he had a long, straggling beard and hair done up in a topknot, wore a lot of beads around his neck, and he carried a gourd which he rattled angrily as he walked.

This ancient sage strode into the palace and the guards hurriedly stood aside to let him pass, for fear that he would turn them into frogs or worse. He marched straight into the throne room, where the king was discussing the day’s business with his ministers while a row of petitioners waited.

“Welcome, Venerable Father,” the king said, immediately abandoning the business of the day on seeing the mendicant, because he knew that to risk the wrath of one of these was to ask to be punished. “Please tell me how we can be of service to you.”

The sage rattled his gourd a bit less angrily at this sign of respect. “I have a need of a good strong youth,” he said, “to help me get rid of a certain demon which disturbs my rituals and frightens away my devotees. Can you give me such a young man?”

“We will do everything in our power to help you,” the king said. “But which young man will go to attempt such a task?”

“I’ll go,” said the prince, who was listening.

“I’ll go too,” the prime minister’s son said at once.

“So will I,” the general’s son chimed in.

“There you are, Holiness,” the king said, relieved. “Three young men all ready to serve you.”

“I will only need one,” the sage said. “Which of you is it to be?”

Then the prince jumped up eagerly. “I’ll go, of course.”

“Very well,” said the sage. “Come.”

So, pausing only to tie on his long curved sword, the young man followed the old mendicant as he led him out of the palace and down to the bank of the river, where a boat was waiting. Getting into it, the sage ordered him to row it across. It was a long way to row, and the prince had never done such a thing before, so he was soon tired; but he did as he was told. Finally they arrived on the other side of the river, which – since it was in another kingdom – the young man had never visited.

There the mendicant led him through a forest to a small stone temple by the side of a pond. “Here,” he said, rattling his gourd, “is my ashram. Each night, the demon comes out from under that pond and destroys all the preparations I have made for my dawn rituals. All night he storms around the temple, bellowing like a monster bull, and frightens away anyone who hears. It is only owing to my magic charms that he has not killed me, because he has most certainly tried.”

“He cannot beat a strong young men like me,” the prince assured him. “I will wait for him to come out during the night, and when he does, I will cut him to pieces.”

“It will soon be dark,” the mendicant said. “I will begin preparations for tomorrow morning’s rituals, and I will then go and wait in my hut on the other side of the pond. I have placed a magic circle around the hut, so that the demon can’t enter it.”

“You can sleep well, Holiness,” the prince said. “I will see you in the morning.”

“I will be here shortly after sunrise,” the old sage responded. He made preparations for the morning ritual, setting out wood for the sacrificial fire, baskets of flowers, pots of milk, and incense ready for the lighting. Then, after a word or two, he left for his hut just as dusk was falling.

The prince had scarcely sat down to wait for the demon when he heard a nasal voice speaking from the tamarind tree that grew just beside the temple. “What a handsome young man,” the voice said. “What a pity that he will never see the sunrise.”

“Yes,” another equally nasal voice replied. “And to end in such a way, too!”

“Who are you?” the prince demanded, taking out his sword. “Speak, or I will find you and destroy you!”

But the voices in the tree quickly fell silent, and though the prince looked up into it, he could find nothing in the growing darkness.

The hours passed by, and the night grew deeper, and the prince was tired with the exertion of the rowing. At last, despite all his precautions, he dropped into a deep sleep. Thus he was taken by surprise when, with a great bellowing, the demon came out of the pond. Without a moment’s hesitation, he seized the prince, before he could even draw his sword, and swallowed him whole.

The next morning, the mendicant went straight back to the king. “I demand that you give me one more young man,” he said. “The one you sent with me yesterday proved quite useless.”

“Where is my son?” the king asked. “What has happened to him?”

“The demon has eaten him, of course,” the sage replied. “Give me another or I shall turn you into a moth.”

“I shall go at once,” the minister’s son said. “I will go and avenge the prince, my friend.”

Despite his shock and sorrow at the news, the king reluctantly agreed, and the prime minister, with even greater misgivings, gave his blessings. Then the sage took the minister’s son and took him down to the boat. As before, he ordered the youth to row him across the river, and, once there, took him to the temple. There he gave him the same instructions as he had given the prince the previous evening. “Be careful,” he warned. “Your friend must have made some mistake, due to which he was surprised and eaten.”

“I will not make any such mistake,” the minister’s son said. “I will fulfil my duty and avenge my friend as well.”

“We shall see,” the sage said, gathering the wood for the morning’s fire. “We shall see.”

Soon after the sage had left for the safety of his hut, the prime minister’s son heard the nasal voices in the tree.

“Another one,” the first voice said, “and even more handsome, too!”

“What red cheeks,” the second voice replied. “What fine, muscular limbs! He’s so delightful to look upon!”

“Such a pity that he, too, has only a few hours left,” the first voice said. “If only there was some way he could avoid his fate.”

The minister’s son had listened this far, but could bear no more. Jumping to his feet, he ran to the tamarind tree and began climbing it, his sword in hand. The voices abruptly fell silent, and though he searched as long as he could, he found nothing.

As the hours passed, the minister’s son also began feeling the effects of exhaustion. At first he got up and began walking around to keep himself awake, but little by little his weariness overtook him, and he sat down with his back to a pillar to rest his aching muscles. Soon he fell asleep, his sword in his hand, and there the demon found him, and swallowed him whole.

The next day, the sage went back to the king for the third time. “Your minister’s son has gone the same way as your own,” he said. “You must give me a third young man, for you promised to help me in all the ways you could.”

The general’s son had already buckled on his sword. “I will go with you, Holiness,” he said. “I will avenge my friends and fulfil the king’s promise, too.”

So the sage went with him down to the river, and ordered him to row the boat. But the general’s son shook his head. “I have never rowed a boat,” he said. “I can’t do it.”

Then the sage rattled his gourd in a temper and again ordered him to row.

“I can’t,” the general’s son repeated. “I have never done any such thing, and if I tried I would probably upset the boat and we would all drown.”

So, with extremely bad grace, the mendicant himself had to row the boat back across the river. Eventually they arrived at the other bank, and the old man led the general’s son to the temple and told him what was required.

“At what time does the demon emerge from the pond, Holiness?” the general’s son asked. “What is it like? Does it have any weaknesses?”

“Do not bother me with such questions,” the old sage said, busying himself with his preparations. “Your task is to destroy it, not ask for unnecessary information.” Without any further words, as night fell he left the young man in the temple and went away.

Soon afterwards, the general’s son heard the nasal voices in the tamarind tree.

“A third one,” the first said. “And he’s even more handsome than the other two.”

“Ah, it will be such a pity that he will not survive the night,” the second voice replied.

“It will be such a tragedy, indeed,” the first voice said. “But his doom is sealed.”

The general’s son sat, listening intently, but made no word or gesture to indicate that he had heard anything.

“If only he knew,” the first voice said, “the demon’s secrets, he could find a way to evade his fate. But, no, there is no way he could find out.”

“Yes,” the second voice replied, sighing. “If there was only some way that he could know that the demon cannot be killed or harmed with his sword. Trying to fight it will only result in his own destruction.”

“Ah, it might be different if he only knew that there is no way to harm the demon except by capturing its life. And its life lies in a sealed box inside a subterranean cavern deep under the bottom of this pond.”

“Then, perhaps,” the first voice said, “if he could only hide away from the demon during the night, at the very first light of dawn – but not a moment later – he could swim down to the cave and from there bring out the box. And when he would have the box in his hand, the demon would be his to do with as he wished.”

“But he could never hide from the demon,” the second voice replied, “for he, poor thing, does not know that the only way to conceal himself from the creature is by making an unbroken circle around his feet with tamarind leaves, and staying within that circle, no matter what happens, until the demon goes away.”

“He doesn’t know any of this,” said the first voice, “and so he will end, just as the others did, in the creature’s belly.”

The voices fell silent, and the general’s son got up quietly and with his sword cut down a small branch of the tree, from which he stripped off the leaves. Marking a circle around himself with them, he waited for the demon to come.

He had to wait for a long time. As the hours passed, he began feeling tired. But since he had not expended his energy in rowing the long distance across the river, he did not fall asleep, and so made sure he always stayed within the circle.

Precisely at midnight, the water of the pond began stirring, and a moment later the demon emerged with a roar. He was as tall as a palm tree, and had immense teeth and eyes as red as blood. When he walked the ground trembled under his tread. He came straight to the temple and peered inside. The demon looked right at the young man, who expected at any moment to be seen and devoured, so that he had to restrain himself from trying to run away. But he remembered what the voices had said, and stood perfectly still in the circle of leaves; and after a few moments the demon looked away.

“Where is he?” the demon asked himself in a voice like thunder. “Where is my meal for tonight?” Extending a hand the size of an ox, he began groping around the floor of the temple, but somehow always failed to enter the circle of the tamarind leaves. In a rage, he stormed away, and roaring hunted through the forest on both sides of the temple. But every little while he returned to peer inside it again, and hunt around with his hand, in the hope of startling his quarry from hiding.

The general’s son was, of course, very frightened, but he kept reminding himself of what the voices had said. And, after a long time, the sky in the east began to turn faintly lighter and the demon, with a final roar of fury, returned to the depths of the pond.

The general’s son didn’t hesitate a moment. Quickly removing his shoes and tunic, he ran to the water’s edge and dived in. The pond was deep and dark, and he thought about the demon which he had seen leap into this same water only minutes earlier. But he kept in his mind what the voices had said, that he needed to enter the water at the very first light of dawn. And, just as his lungs felt like bursting from the effort, he touched the mud of the pond bottom. Feeling his way along, within moments he found the entrance of the cave, and swam down into it. Soon, his fingers touched a little box; picking it up in one hand, he turned himself round with difficulty and swam back up to the surface.

Once on land, he looked over the box. It was small and silver in colour, and there seemed to be no way to open it. He could not see a keyhole or any other way of levering up the lid. Still examining the box, he dried himself off as best he could and got dressed again.

He heard the voices as soon as he got back inside the temple.

“He’s got the box,” the first one said. “Now if only he knew how to open it, he could have the demon in his power.”

“But he doesn’t know how to open it,” the second lamented. “If he does not get it open before the sun comes up, the demon will be able to take the life back again, and hide it once more.”

“If only he knew,” the first said, “that to strike the box with the haft of a sword seven times is what will open it, he could do that. But since he does not know, the poor lad is doomed to failure.”

The sky in the east was already pink and yellow, and it was obviously only a few moments before the sun would rise. The general’s son quickly picked up the sword, and holding it by the blade, began rapping on the box. At the seventh tap the lid popped open.

Picking up the box, the general’s son looked eagerly inside, not knowing what he would find. But all that he saw was a small white stone, about as big as his thumbnail.

“He’s found the demon’s life,” the first voice observed. “And just in time, too, for the sun is just about to rise.”

“Now if only he crushed it under his feet,” the second said, “the demon would die instantly. But if he kept it with him...”

“Alas, the sun has risen,” the first voice said, “and we must retire for the day. It’s a great pity, for I wish I could see what he chooses to do now.”

 At last the general’s son found his voice. “Wait, please,” he called. “May I know who you are?”

There was a brief pause. “We are ghosts who live in the tree,” the second voice responded at length. “We come awake at dark, and sleep when it is morning again.”

“We must go now,” the first voice said. “I wish we could see what you do now, but...” The voice faded away and was gone.

The general’s son was still looking up into the branches of the tree when the old sage emerged from his hut on the other side of the pond. The young man saw him and quickly hid the stone and the box in the pockets of his tunic. When the sage arrived, he greeted him politely.

“You survived the night?” the old mendicant asked. “So have you killed the demon as you said you would?”

“Not yet,” the general’s son said. “I have some unfinished business with him.” Casually, he put his hand in his pocket and closed it round the stone. “Once that business is over, I shall decide whether he should die or live,” he added, and squeezed the stone as tightly as he could.

For an instant, the old sage’s eyes flared bright red. “What business is that?” he growled.

“I think,” the general’s son said. “I’ll tell him that myself. If he agrees, he can live. If not...” He squeezed the stone again, so hard that it might almost split in two.

With a howl, the sage leaped away from him and into the pond. The water swirled and splashed, and a moment later the demon emerged. Towering over the young man, he gnashed his immense teeth.

“Give me my life back,” he roared. “Or I shall break your neck and tear you to pieces.”

But the general’s son merely laughed. He took out the stone, set it on the ground, and put his shoe on it. “If you try,” he said, “I will crush this to powder under my heel. You know what will happen then.”

The demon opened and closed his hands, and his red eyes glared terribly, but he could do nothing. “What is it that you want of me?” he asked.

“Just this – bring my two friends back again, as they were. And never again try to trick young men into coming here so you can eat them.”

The demon nodded reluctantly. Reaching into his mouth, he pulled out first the prince, and then the prime minister’s son. When he put them down on the ground, they shook their heads and sat up, as though waking from a deep sleep.

“Now listen,” the general’s son told the demon. “As long as you never do anyone any harm, we will not hurt you. But if you ever try to play a sage again, or eat anyone –“ He brought his foot down on the stone. “Then...”

“I won’t,” the demon said. “Never again, I swear.”

“Go away,” the general’s son said, and the demon vanished into the water.

And so the three young men made their way back to the boat, and rowed across the river to their own country, where their parents, who had thought them all lost, rejoiced exceedingly at their return.

But that evening, the general’s son got back into the boat and went across the river by himself. He wanted to tell the ghosts how it had all ended.

Settling down in the temple, he waited for dusk to come.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2014



Note to readers: While, for convenience, I have used the term “demon”, the correct form would be rakshasa – a man-eating monster of Bengali fables. The concept of the traditional Western demon is unknown in Indian mythology.



Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The New Atheists, Racism and Bigotry

"We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim."

 ~ Sam Harris, “atheist” ideologue and “thinker”.[1] 

Question time: what is an atheist?

If you answered “Someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god or gods due to the absence of evidence”, you’d be completely correct. That’s all an atheist is – someone who doesn’t accept the existence of deities owing to the absence of acceptable evidence thereof.

But the times, they seem to be a-changin’.

As I believe everyone who reads my blog is well aware, I am an atheist. As the reader will also probably be aware, I have no sympathy for fascism. And, increasingly, that includes atheist fascism.

Atheist fascism, did I say?

Increasingly, atheism – as far as it exists as a public movement – is being hijacked by a fascist, bigoted clique. These people sometimes call themselves New Atheists, but there’s nothing new about their racist bigotry. At one time it used to call itself the White Man’s Burden and claim that it was on a civilising mission. Those were the days when open racism was much more acceptable than now; black Africans were still treated as farm machinery, Jews could still be confined to Pales of settlement, and as for the brown people, we were by turns massacred and forced to produce raw materials to feed our white masters’ economies.

The times may have “changed”, but the hatred and the bigotry haven’t disappeared; and now that you can’t, at least in polite society, openly hate people for the colour of their skin, what other excuse do you have?

There’s one easy answer: religion.

Now the marriage between bigotry and religion is nothing new. The imperialist campaigns to “civilise” the “lesser breeds without the law” had always included a Christianising mission, which was much more successful in some parts of the world than elsewhere. This had also had a strong component of “scientific racism” – the idea that some races were clearly superior or inferior to others, and that this could be proved by science.

Thus, the great French philosopher Voltaire could declare, about black people,

"They are not men, except in their stature, with the faculty of speech and thought at a degree far distant to ours. Such are the ones that I have seen and examined."

and his compatriot Christoph Meiners could say that Africans felt neither emotions nor physical pain.[2]

You’ll note that both these eminent gentlemen perfectly produced the kind of “scientific” data most suited for justifying treating black people as farm machinery and colonial property.

These days, of course, religion as an excuse for colonialism is no longer acceptable in most societies. Even in the nations which actually do colonise others, some other excuse has to be found for colonial aggression and occupation. If the United States, for instance, invades and occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, it is on the excuse of “fighting terror” (whatever that might mean) or “weapons of mass destruction”, even though the administration at the time is fundamentalist Christian. The Zionist entity invades and occupies Palestine on the excuse of “security”, even though the fundamentalist rabbinical establishment calls for the expulsion of Arabs from the lands of “Eretz Israel”.

In both cases, though the aim of the invader and occupier is similar or identical to those of the religious establishment, religion isn’t the excuse given for the aggressive act. Even George W Bush went out of his way to state that his administration “wasn’t at war with Islam” – while devastating Muslim nations and ruining their social structures beyond recovery. But there’s a reason for this: no country, not even the US Empire, can conduct an openly religious war any longer. That’s only for the likes of ISIS or Al Shabaab, Boko Haram or the Buddhist mobs in Sri Lanka or Myanmar; non-state actors who don’t have to put up a facade of responsibility on what’s usually called the world stage.

But, of course, they are religious wars, whatever they may be called; as much religious wars as the Crusades, and as George W accidentally admitted early in his rampage. And there are one set of people who not just openly acknowledge that it is a religious war, but call for the worst kind of genocide to be visited on the targets. Who are these people?

The self-styled New Atheists, of course.

This is what the aforesaid Sam Harris has to say about the religion of Islam:

“We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.” (The End of Faith, p. 109)

To this end, Harris is perfectly happy not just to openly advocate torture of Muslims[3] but the use of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against Muslim nations and the acceptability of “collateral damage” in the destruction of Muslim countries. This is what Harris, in a self-exculpatory article, has to say about his advocacy of nuclear pre-emptive strikes (instead of using his critics’ words against him, I’ll let him speak for himself): [4]

What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.

So, those Muslims (since we’re never told what an “Islamist regime” is supposed to be; remember that to Harris, in his own words, “we” are at war with Islam) can’t be trusted to think in any terms other than martyrdom and paradise – so it’s acceptable to nuke them rather than risk even the slightest chance that they might nuke “us”. If that isn’t an advocacy of pre-emptive nuclear strikes, I don’t know what is.

Not that Harris, of course, is alone in his anti-Islamic religious war. One of his best friends is Richard Dawkins, of whom I have said in the past that I respect his scholarship while entirely rejecting his bigotry. Not that his scholarship goes very far when it comes to Islam:[5]

“Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But [I] often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.”

So, the scholar who writes books depicting genetics and evolution in excruciating detail can't be bothered to actually find out something about the religion he himself cheerfully admits he calls the "greatest force of evil" today. Isn't that interesting?

From left: Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins

The third of the troika of New Atheists is the late Christopher Hitchens, whose one contribution to society, in my mind, was his part in debunking the myth of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa. Hitchens was a cheerleader of the invasion and destruction of Iraq, ironically an action which removed a secular Muslim bulwark against fundamentalism and jihadist terrorism. In fact, Hitchens’ stance on Iraq is the ultimate proof that whatever else the New Atheists pretend to be, their “war on Islam” isn’t anything of the sort – it’s a war against non-white people, period.

This, incidentally, is another of the sticking points I have regarding Dawkins. According to him, anti-Muslim animus (incorrectly called Islamophobia; the correct term is Islamomisia, hate of Islam) is not racism because “something you can convert to” is not a race.

That this superficially plausible argument is hogwash isn’t too difficult to intuit, even without Sam Harris’ quote with which I opened this article. Take a look at the usual depiction of “Muslims” in Western media; exactly how many white (or Kazakh, Indonesian or even black) Muslims would you see? In the aftermath of the 11/9 attacks, whom did the hate-fuelled specimens bent on vengeance in the US go around attacking? Brown-skinned people, irrespective of their religious orientation, wasn’t it? Who were the people put off flights because the pilots didn’t want to fly with them on board? Whom did the sky marshals arrest for “looking at them the wrong way”? If you Google image search for “terrorist”, who do you see depicted? All brown-skinned people, right?

There’s a reason why I call the comic strip I draw Raghead the Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist.

The stupidity of the kind of profiling Harris recommends is even more idiotic when you consider the idea of someone looking like they could “conceivably be Muslim”. How do you know who is a Muslim? Is it, say, by a beard? Didn’t Muhammad Atta and his cohorts shave their beards and look like anyone else? Isn’t it common sense for terrorists carrying out attacks for which they would have to go undercover, like the 11/9 hijackers, to dress up and act like anyone else? In that case, what do you have to go on?

Just the skin colour and racial origin, isn’t that so?

(And I’m not even mentioning white converts like those who turn up in Syria in disturbing numbers – how would you profile them? And how about non-Muslim terrorists...like, oh, Timothy McVeigh, for instance?)

Not a terrorist, obviously.

However, the mere fact that they are racist bigots (and, in the case of Harris, arguably not an atheist at all[6,7]) hasn’t come in the way of the New Atheists becoming celebrities of the atheist “movement”. In fact, I have a big, a huge, an enormous problem with this atheist “movement”. As I said, over and over and over, atheism is not a religion. It does not have “leaders” or “prophets” any more than people who – like me – prefer to shave their heads and wear goatees have “leaders”. Once and for all, atheism is just a philosophical position that rejects the existence of any god in the absence of verifiable evidence. That is all there is to it.

A lot of atheists who agree with me about the bigotry and hatemongering of these New Atheists tend to think, wrongly, that they are harmless. They are anything but harmless. They are the intellectual descendants of the racist “scientists” of the 18th Century who claimed black people didn’t have emotions and couldn’t feel pain. They claim that Muslims are all a monolithic mass who think and act alike, and the fact their position is as provably false, bigoted and ignorant as that of Voltaire et al isn’t making any difference to them or to the immature “atheists” who treat them as demigods and hang on to every word.

And in this lies an enormous danger.

A while ago, I was in an online discussion with a particular New Atheist acolyte who proudly proclaimed that he was “at war with Islam”. I asked him just what kind of Islam he was at war with, and whether he even had any conception of the differences between sects and schools of thought in the religion. Obviously he didn’t, nor did he want to know anything about them. I also asked him just how he intended to fight this “’war” of his – did he advocate genocide? He merely proclaimed that he did not want to discuss the topic with me and closed the conversation.

Let me repeat: this alleged atheist not only didn’t know what he was “at war” with, he didn’t want to know. He was proud of his ignorance.

Typical New Atheist "philosophy"

 Just how is this atheism again?

Now, there is a big problem with religion – just about all religions – these days. It is the disappearance of the moderate religious person. The formerly middle space, occupied by the moderates, is vanishing fast. A lot of people are drifting towards atheism or at least agnosticism, and this is of course a much welcome move. Leave the religion alone, and this is probably something that is irreversible, going by what’s happened to European Christianity. More educated and cosmopolitan people will, all other factors being equal, drift steadily towards moderate to no religion.

But all other factors are not equal. If the racist New Atheist bigots want to harden the fundamentalist core of the religions they target – primarily, of course, Islam – they are going about it exactly the right way, with blanket condemnation, incitement to violence, and casual racism. The enemy of the religious fundamentalist isn’t the atheist – it is the religious moderate, because the moderate proves to the so-called True Believer that another way of belief is possible without becoming an apostate. On the other hand, the aggressive atheist is nothing more than the best ally a fundamentalist can have, by convincing him or her that the world outside religion is his or her enemy.

All this is quite independent of the fact that the average religious person is - in daily life - more often than not a nice human being, and gratuitous insults are puerile and stupid. Also, this is apart from the fact that religion per se is not a problem. It only becomes a problem when it obtrudes into someone else's life.

The way the New Atheists go about it, they are making sure it will obtrude into everyone's life.

If you convince a people they are being targeted because of their faith, how long will it be before they decide to act on it? Why do you think jihadism is taking root in Muslim nations where it was a fringe movement once, nations which have been at the receiving end of Western armaments – while, in countries where representative democracy is allowed, fundamentalist Muslims have always done poorly in elections?

Bigotry feeds on bigotry. The New Atheists are setting themselves up to be the exact same kind of religious movement they are allegedly against, with prophets, acolytes, and utter intolerance for any kind of dissent for the “received wisdom”. As Noam Chomsky said[5]

Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens are “religious fanatics” and...in their quest to bludgeon society with their beliefs about secularism, they have actually adopted the state religion

They’re rapidly hijacking atheism and turning it into a fascist intellectual movement. They have to be stopped. We have to take atheism back from them before it is too late.

Remove the guns and give them laptops, and they're your New Atheists

This is not going to be a simple task. As I said, these poisonous individuals aren’t going to fade away with time. They have their second rung waiting in the wings, people like the Zionist shill and admitted liar[8]  Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to take over when they fade from the scene.

I may have been too generous in imputing the New Atheists' Islamomisia only to racism and bigotry. There is, of course, another and more commonplace side to it. Dawkins and Harris' opinions sell. In huge numbers, their books sell, and earn them gigantic amounts in terms of royalties. They get speaking fees for lectures. Like Creationism, for example, New Atheism is big business. And business protects itself by any and all means possible.

Fighting back may not be easy, but it has to be done. Just as the religious moderates have to fight back against the fundamentalists who are hijacking their religion, the original (and arguably the true) atheists have to fight back against the bigots.

Since I don’t consider the New Atheists atheists at all, what other name can we use for them?

I think I have a suggestion.

Bigotists.

Sources:

Note: I strongly suggest the reader check out these links for the detailed information they give on the subject of the Bigotists, especially the beliefs and statements of Sam Harris:












Tinaz and the Pterosaur

 
The day Tinaz went to join the Pterosaur Corps, her mother came with her to the centre, still trying half-heatedly to dissuade her.
 
“It’s not the sort of thing a girl should do,” she said. “Now if you’d wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, or even a scientist, it might be different. It would be a pinch, but I’m sure your father and I could manage to find the money...”
 
“Mum,” Tinaz said patiently, for at least the seventeenth time by her own count, “this is what I want to do with my life, all right?”
 
“But it’s not the job for a girl,” her mother persisted. “No girl’s ever joined the Pterosaur Corps –“
 
“It’s time one did, then,” Tinaz said, doing her best not to sound exasperated. “Mum, please stop trying to persuade me. Listen.” She turned and put her hands on her mother’s shoulders, realising suddenly with surprise that she was now taller than the older woman. “Would you be happy knowing that I’m working at something that made me miserable, just because you wanted me to?”
 
 Tinaz’ mother sighed. “No,” she admitted. “But this isn’t really the same thing, is it? It’s a hard job, and you’re a –“
 
“A girl. I know.” Tinaz shook her head. “You know I passed the aptitude and physical tests. I couldn’t have done that if they thought I couldn’t handle the job, mum.”
 
“Next,” the uniformed guard at the door called, looking at them. “It’s your turn, miss.”
 
“I’ve got to go, mum.”
 
“I’m sure you’ll do very well.” Tinaz’ mother smiled, though her lips were trembling. “All the best, darling.”
 
Tinaz smiled and raised a hand as she turned to enter. “See you in a while, mum.”
 
As she climbed the steps to the recruitment centre, past the guard, she paused a moment to look up at the sky. High above, in the burnished blue, a speck soared on pointed wings. She stared at it until the guard cleared his throat. “Miss?”
 
“Sorry,” she said, smiled at him, and went in through the door.
 
************************************
 
Tinaz had wanted to be a Pterosaur Rider as long as she could remember.
 
She still remembered the first time she had seen one of the riders, swooping low over the town on the back of one of the gigantic beasts. The pterosaur’s wings had momentarily eclipsed the sun as the giant animal had passed overhead, its pointed jaw cutting through the air like a knife. She had been only four or five then, standing in the garden in her pink dress with the frill and holding her favourite doll. She’d looked up at the pterosaur and waved, and the man on the creature’s back had leaned over and waved back.
 
At that moment, she had known, with total and absolute certainty, what she would do with her life.
 
She remembered that moment now, as she walked to the pterosaur pens behind her instructor for her first introduction to the creatures. Over the last week she had grown to know him well, and had begun to develop a crush on him, though he was over twice her age. He grinned at her over his shoulder, his teeth very white below his dark moustache.
 
“Nervous?”
 
“No...no, sir,” Tinaz stammered. “I’m all right.”
 
“I told you not to call me sir. My name is Jamshid.”
 
“I’m all right, sir...Jamshid.” Tinaz didn’t know whether to be more nervous about the pterosaurs or her proximity to the handsome instructor. “I’ve been waiting for this many years, you know.”
 
“Yes, I read it on your application.” Jamshid glanced at her, arching an eyebrow. “This isn’t a romantic vocation, you know. It’s a job, a hard job.”
 
“Yes...Jamshid. I know that.”
 
“Just saying it once to make sure,” Jamshid said. “Don’t worry, it’s going to be all right.”
 
The wall around the pens was very high, and topped with barbed wire. The guard read their identity cards before unlocking the gate. 
 
Even decades later, Tinaz never forgot her first close look at a pterosaur. The huge beast was as tall as a big building, so tall that she had to tilt her head back to take it all in. It saw them too, and came knuckle walking across its enclosure, the immense crested head cocked on one side. Despite all she’d been told, Tinaz felt a momentary flash of fear.
 
“This is Fuad,” Jamshid said. He reached through the wire and gently scratched the enormous animal’s snout. “He’s one of our best and most experienced animals.”
 
“You’ve flown on him?” Tinaz asked, looking up at the immense animal in awe. It seemed impossible to believe that such a huge creature could actually fly. “What was it like?”
 
“You’ll find out yourself soon enough,” Jamshid chuckled. “Not on Fuad’s back, of course. He’s not for trainees. Now come over here.”
 
Tinaz followed him past several other pens in which titanic pterosaurs sat, walked around, or squawked greetings at them as they passed. Once or twice Jamshid greeted them in turn, touching a wingtip through the wire or rubbing a snout. They passed the main line of pens and almost to the wall on the other side before Jamshid stopped in front of an enclosure.
 
“Here’s your pterosaur.”
 
Tinaz’ mouth fell open as she looked up at the creature inside the wire. It was perhaps not as huge as the animals they’d already passed, but its snout seemed even sharper, and its eyes glowed even brighter amber as it looked back at her. And unlike the brownish-grey of the others, its crest was brilliant red and its skin a startling white.
 
“This is Sabira,” Jamshid said. “She’s going to be your mount. Say hello to her. Go ahead.”
 
Tinaz looked at Sabira and the pterosaur looked back at her. “Hello, Sabira,” she ventured.
 
Sabira seemed to think about this a few seconds and then knuckle-walked to the wire. She bent her immense head, till her snout touched the wire mesh. At Jamshid’s nod, Tinaz reached out and touched her.
 
She was touching a pterosaur for the very first time. It felt dry and warm, and when she rubbed the skin, Sabira moved her head back and forth. Tinaz realised that the pterosaur was rubbing her hand back.
 
“She likes you,” Jamshid said approvingly. “She doesn’t do that to everybody.”
 
“And she’ll let me fly on her?” Sabira asked.
 
“Eventually,” Jamshid said, and began unlocking a gate inset in the wire. “Well,” he asked, “are you coming?”
 
Tinaz glanced at the open gate, looked up at Sabira, licked her lips, and followed.
 
******************************
 
From  high above, the earth was a whirl of tawny desert, green lines of trees, and the glittering spangle of houses in the town.
 
It was her first time in the air alone, and though she had taken many flights with Jamshid over the last few days, Tinaz felt as though she had never been up before.
 
“She knows where to go,” Jamshid had told Tinaz. “Let her find her own way. She’ll take you round and come back. Just relax.”
 
So Tinaz sat with the reins slack in her gauntlets, and tried her best to relax. But the more she tried, the more she felt herself tense up. The muscles in her back began throbbing, and she winced.
 
“Take deep breaths,” a voice in her mind said, clearly audible despite her leather flying helmet. “Take a deep breath and let yourself go slack in the saddle. Don’t worry, you won’t fall.”
 
“What?” Tinaz said aloud. “Who’s this?”
 
“Who do you think?” The pterosaur twisted her head enough to be able to look back at the girl with a sardonic eye. “Who else is here?”
 
“You can talk?
 
“I suppose you could put it that way.” The pterosaur banked gently into a thermal, and the ground below began falling away. “You’re going to tell yourself that you imagined this, aren’t you? They all do.”
 
“Who’s they?” Tinaz asked blankly.
 
“The trainees I talk to. Most can’t hear me. The few that do – they all persuade themselves that they imagined it, once they’re off my back. The second time up, they’ve shut off their mind so completely they can’t hear me any longer.” Sabira glanced back at Tinaz again. “You’ll be the same.”
 
“I – I don’t understand. How can you communicate with me?”
 
“The same way as you can communicate with me, I suppose. Do you think it’s a unique ability?” Sabira seemed to be laughing. “Well, let’s go back home now, so you can start sealing your mind off and telling yourself you imagined it.”
 
“I’m not going to!” Tinaz said.
 
“That’s what they all say too,” Sabira said drily, as she banked again and set course for home.
 
************************************
 
Can pterosaurs talk?” Tinaz asked.
 
Jamshid looked up from the forms he was going through. “What? Of course not.”
 
“But you talk to them all the time, and you encourage me to, as well.”
 
Jamshid sat back and looked at her oddly. “That’s different from them talking back, isn’t it? Where did you get the notion?”
 
“It’s nothing,” Tinaz said. “Just an idle fancy.” She remembered what the pterosaur had said, about people closing off their minds, and wondered if Jamshid had closed off his. Of course, perhaps it was she who was imagining the whole thing. “I just returned from the flight,” she said, unnecessarily.
 
“Everything went off all right? Leave it to Sabira, she knows what to do the first time up. Next flight onwards, you’ll have to start taking charge.”
 
“Yes, sir...Jamshid.”
 
“Right, you can go home for today. And, Tinaz?”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Pterosaurs are intelligent, but they can’t talk. Put the idea right out of your head.”
 
As Tinaz left the room she looked back once. Jamshid was watching her, the odd look still on his face.
 
*************************************
 
Can you still talk?” Tinaz asked the next morning, as soon as Sabira had taken off from the Corps training ground.
 
“You can still hear me?” the great animal replied in astonishment. “How did that happen?”
 
“So you do talk,” Tinaz replied in only slightly less astonishment. “I’d almost decided I was imagining the whole thing.”
 
“Almost?”
 
“I’d probably have been certain I was imagining it,” Tinaz confessed, “except that when I asked Jamshid if pterosaurs can communicate he was so very emphatic in denying it. I remembered what you’d said about people blocking their minds.” She hesitated. “If you hadn’t replied, I’d have shut my mind off too.”
 
Sabira lowered a wingtip and headed for a growing thermal. “You didn’t talk about this to your parents?”
 
“My parents don’t want to hear about my career choice.” Tinaz shook her head. “You can just see the cloud of gloom hanging over their heads.”
 
“Gloom?”
 
“Yes, this isn’t the future they wanted for me. Their daughter, the pterosaur jockey. Whatever will people say?”
 
“There are worse things to be than pterosaur jockeys,” Sabira told her, as the thermal caught hold and began carrying them aloft. “You could be a pterosaur, for instance.”
 
Tinaz frowned. “How do you mean?”
 
Sabira didn’t say anything for a while. The thermal began to weaken. “Where do you want to go today?” she asked. “This is your second solo flight, so you’re supposed to begin guiding me.”
 
“I don’t know.” Tinaz spotted the spire of the communications tower across the desert valley, a thin upraised finger of stone and metal. “Let’s do a circuit of that,” she said.
 
“Pull gently on my left rein.” Sabira sideslipped out of the thermal and began a long glide across the valley. “You’ve got to learn how to guide other pterosaurs, not just me.”
 
“Don’t the other pterosaurs talk?” Tinaz said, surprised.
 
“Among each other, of course. To you...I don’t know. I haven’t found any other pterosaur who can. But then I don’t discuss it with them either.”
 
“Why not?”
 
“Why not? Because they’d call it as freakish and unnatural as other humans would call your talking to me. Pterosaurs don’t really like people that much.”
 
“They don’t?”
 
“Of course they don’t. It’s just that they’re so accustomed to working with people that they can’t see any alternative. Besides, they’re conditioned from the time they’re born to think of people as essential to their well being.”
 
Tinaz watched the communications tower edge closer. She could make out the girders and antennae. “But you’re different.”
 
“Yes, I’m different. For one thing, I’m not captive bred. I was born wild.”
 
“What?” Tinaz was so astonished that she almost fell off the saddle. “How could you have been born wild? The wild pterosaurs are an endangered protected species. Everyone knows that trapping them is banned.”
 
Sabira’s thought resembled a harsh chuckle. “Oh yes, it’s banned. But there are always exceptions to rules.” She turned in a smooth curve around the tower, low enough that Tinaz could see people on the ground, watching. “Pull on my other rein, steadily,” she added. “Slacken off the pull when I come round the tower.”
 
Tinaz mechanically did as she was told. “How did they trap you?”
 
“I was very young,” Sabira replied. “Just about learning how to fly, when it happened.” She flapped her wings a few times, and settled down into another glide. “I was born in one of the rookeries to the far north, near the sea. Have you ever seen them?”
 
“Once, on television.”
 
“I don’t suppose you’ll know much about them then. They’re noisy, confused places to look at, but really – if you’re a pterosaur – there’s nothing so chaotic about them. Everything has its place, and the mothers know their nesting sites – and their chicks.
 
“I remember my mother’s smell. She used to cover me with her wings, to keep me warm during the night, even when I thought was quite large enough to take care of myself. I would snuggle next to her and listen to her heart beating, till I fell asleep. And each day I would clamour to go out hunting with her, but she would tell me to wait till I was old enough.”
 
Sabira was silent for so long that Tinaz thought she didn’t want to say any more. The desert hushed by below the great pterosaur’s white wings as they glided towards the old dried lake which had once provided the town with its water supply.
 
“One day,” Sabira said, “I grew tired of waiting in the nest for my mother to return. I had just begun flying – not far, but I could flap about for short distances. I thought I would fly down from the rookery to the shore, and back again. This was something my mother had specifically told me not to do, unless she was there. But I thought I could easily do it and come back again before she returned.
 
“I still remember how free the wind felt on my wings as I flew down to the shore. It was a cool, cloudy day, and I didn’t plan on staying down on the beach long. I intended to land, see if I could find a few mussels to eat, and then fly back. But I never did come back again.”
 
Undirected by Tinaz, she made a slow circle over the dried lake and turned homewards. “The trappers were down on the beach, of course, waiting for such unwary chicks as me. They threw their nets over me as soon as I’d touched the ground. The next thing I remember, I was wrapped so tightly I could not move my wings and so accidentally damage myself. The tied my snout, too, so I couldn’t bite.”
 
Tinaz began to say something, but no words came.
 
“I still don’t know how my mother felt when she returned and found me gone,” Sabira said, as she circled down for a landing. “Sometimes I sit on my perch at night and I wish I could tell her how I was, and where.”
 
Tinaz still couldn’t say anything.
 
“Well,” Sabira said, sinking on her belly so Tinaz could step off, “we didn’t really do proper training today, did we? Next flight, we’d better not talk so much, don’t you think?”
 
“Why do you talk to me anyway?” Tinaz asked, finally finding her voice.
 
“Would you rather I didn’t? I won’t if you don’t want me to.”
 
“I didn’t mean that at all,” Tinaz said, turning away and fumbling at her flight goggles. “Excuse me, there’s something in my eye.”
 
*********************************
 
Mum,” Tinaz said that night, “I’d like to ask a question.”
 
“Yes?” the older woman said, a note of surprise in her voice. Tinaz almost never talked to her these days. “You know you can tell me anything you want. Is it...”
 
“No,” Tinaz said, smiling wryly. “I’m not involved with anyone and I’m not sick, nor am I getting second thoughts about my work. I just need to ask, um, a hypothetical question.”
 
“And that is?”
 
“Just suppose I was still a child, and you’d gone out leaving me at home...” Tinaz hesitated, trying to decide the exact words in her mind, “...and some, shall we say, slave traders came and took me away, and you never found out what had happened to me. What would you feel?”
 
For a moment she thought her mother would faint. The older woman actually swayed. “What made you think such a thing?” she asked eventually. “Don’t even mention it again, do you hear me?”
 
“Sorry, mum.” Tinaz kissed her mother’s hair. “It’s just a thought I had. Don’t worry, everything’s all right.”
 
But her mother’s eyes told her that everything was not all right, and for the rest of the evening, Tinaz felt her staring at her. And that night, after she’d gone to bed, her mother came into her room, something she hadn’t done in years.
 
“Mum?” Tinaz asked, feigning sleepiness. “Is something wrong?”
 
“No,” her mother said. “I was just thinking.”
 
“What about?”
 
“If something like what you’d said had happened...” Her mother hesitated. “Are you talking about someone in particular?”
 
Tinaz thought about Sabira, her shining red crest and milk-white skin. “It’s nothing, mum. Don’t worry. It’s really nothing at all.”
 
******************************
 
Why don’t you just fly away?” Tinaz asked suddenly.
 
They’d been flying for hours already, Sabira insisting on Tinaz learning to guide her properly. “You aren’t going to be a trainee forever,” she’d admonished. “If you don’t learn this you won’t get to stay in the Corps.”
 
At first, Tinaz had been clumsy. Sometimes she’d pulled the reins too hard, or too softly, and sometimes she’d simply not been navigating by the landmarks below, so she missed her waypoints and had had to go round again. Sabira had been, by turns, patient and annoyed, but at last she’d fallen silent. It was then that Tinaz asked the question.
 
“Don’t you want to go back home again – to your mother?”
 
Sabira turned her head enough to look at Tinaz from the corner of an eye. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about that,” she said. “But it isn’t really up to me, anyway.”
 
“Why not? You could just fly off. Nobody could stop you.”
 
“You think so?” Sabira flew on for some minutes silently. “I don’t have a choice in the matter,” she said at last. “You think it’s easy, but it isn’t. For one thing, I’m never in the air by myself. There’s always someone on my back. For another...”
 
“What?”
 
“There’s the chip, of course. You didn’t know about the chip? The Corps can track any of us at any moment. It gives out a signal. If I tried to fly off, I’d have a squadron of pterosaurs from the Corps after me in less time than it takes to tell it. Some of them are specifically trained to intercept runaways.”
 
“There must be a way of getting away,” Tinaz said. “Perhaps we could...”
 
“Forget it. I’ve more or less accepted my condition. It’s not so bad, is it? At least when I can find someone to talk to.”
 
“But your mother...”
 
“No more on this topic,” Sabira said. “Now pull on the left rein, hard, or we’ll miss this waypoint again.”
 
Tinaz pulled.
 
****************************
 
It happened on the last day of Tinaz’ training.
 
She had not talked to Sabira on the topic of running away again. Though she’d broached it once or twice, the pterosaur had refused to discuss the subject, merely reminding her that the training period was running out and she still had much to learn. So over the weeks she’d learnt how to navigate when unable to see the ground, how to fly low over rough terrain, how to carry heavy loads and put them down exactly where required. Even Sabira had admitted grudgingly that she had been a good pupil.
 
“Though you could have been better, of course,” she’d added, “if you hadn’t spent all the time talking to me about things that don’t matter.”
 
Sometimes Jamshid would accompany them, flying on another pterosaur, issuing commands over the radio and watching as Tinaz did her best to obey. At these times Sabira never spoke, nor did she make the slightest move to do anything spontaneously. She responded to Tinaz’ orders like an automaton.
 
“You’re doing well,” Jamshid had said that morning. “We’ll move you on from basic training tomorrow.”
 
“Tomorrow?” Tinaz had replied blankly. Though she’d known the day would come, she had felt she’d been stabbed in the chest. “Already?”
 
“Yes, you’re ready. Is something wrong? Normally nobody can wait to be out of basic training.”
 
“No, I’m fine. So I won’t be flying with Sabira any longer from tomorrow?”
 
“No, of course not. She’s got other pupils to train.” Jamshid had pointed at a map. “Now, for your flying today, this is what I want you to do...”
 
Tinaz had listened automatically with part of her mind, while the rest was in turmoil. She had still not figured out what to do when she was perched on Sabira’s back and flying out over the desert.
 
“Sabira...” she said finally, “I need to tell you something.”
 
“That you’ll be moving on? That’s obvious. There’s nothing more I can teach you. You’ll do excellently, Tinaz, as long as you keep your mind on your job.”
 
“But...”
 
“No buts. You’re...”
 
Tinaz’ radio beeped then, with a warbling note she’d never heard before outside the classroom. It was the emergency notification.
 
“Emergency,” the voice of the ground controller said. “There’s a cable car out of control. All units are to respond immediately. Emergency!”
 
“Where is it?’ Tinaz asked.
 
The controller read off the coordinates. “Is that you, Tinaz? You’re the closest. You’d better hurry. The car won’t last much longer.”
 
Sabira had already turned sharply, unprompted, and was descending in a long swooping glide, so quickly that the ground blurred by underneath. Peering over her long neck and crest, Tinaz saw the cable car, a red blob suspended between two hills. Even from this distance she could tell something was wrong.
 
It became shockingly clear how wrong it was. The car was tilted, hanging at a steep angle to the ground, and swaying from side to side. She saw frantic arms waving from the windows. Most of the hands were small. Children.
 
“Sabira,” she said, putting her hand on the great animal’s neck, “what shall we do?”
 
“We can’t take them all off at once,” Sabira said, twisting her wings so that she came to almost a dead stop in the air. “I’m going to fly past as slowly as I can, past the door. Don’t lose your grip on the saddle when you lean across.”
 
Tinaz saw a woman’s frightened face, looking out over the heads of several children. “Open the door,” she shouted. “As I’m coming by, hand me one of the kids. Did you get that?”
 
The woman said nothing, but stepped away from the window. A moment later the door opened, and she appeared with a child in her arms. It was a little girl in a pink dress. Sabira dipped a wing sharply, so that it passed below the car. Tinaz had only to reach out to gather the girl in the crook of her arm.
 
“I’m coming round again,” she called to the woman, wedging the wriggling little body before her on the saddle. “Get another for me to pick up.”
 
“We’ve got to put them down,” Sabira said after Tinaz had picked up the third child, a frightened-looking boy, and turned towards one of the hilltops, closer by far than the desert floor below. “Let’s hope the car holds on a while longer.”
 
The car was swaying even more as Tinaz made the second trip, dropping three more children. Now there was only the woman.
 
“It’s not going to last,” Sabira said quietly, as she flew back up towards the dangling red cabin. Even Tinaz could tell that. The car was swinging even more than before, and she could hear ominous cracking noises. “We won’t have the time to go down again before it crashes.”
 
“What should we do then?” Tinaz asked.
 
“I’m going to fly past under it. I hope you have strong arms.”
 
Tinaz looked up at the bottom of the car. It seemed huge, bulking gigantically against the sky. The woman looked very tiny in the doorway.
 
“It won’t hold,” she shouted. “Jump!”
 
The woman shook her head. She looked paralysed with terror.
 
“It’s going to fall,” Tinaz yelled. “Jump, I tell you!”
 
Eyes squeezed shut, the woman jumped.
 
A moment later, the cable parted and the car came hurtling down.
 
******************************
 
Later, they tried to give her a medal.
 
“You’re a heroine,” Jamshid said. He’d arrived on Fuad just in time to see the cable car smash into the ground. Sabira had already been heading for the nearest hill to put down her passenger. “If it hadn’t been for you, they’d all have been killed.”
 
“No medal,” Tinaz said firmly. “I don’t want any medal.”
 
“What do you want, then?” Jamshid asked, mystified. “A reward?”
 
“In a manner of speaking,” Tinaz said. “I want freedom.”
 
“Freedom? But...”
 
“Not for me,” Tinaz said firmly. “For Sabira.”
 
******************************
 
From a distance, the rookery looked like a barren cliff. It was only when they flew closer that Tinaz was able to make out details, including the heaped rocks and grass that made up the nests.
 
“You’re crazy,” Sabira said for at least the fifth time. “This will ruin your career. The Corps won’t forgive you for robbing them of me. You’ll never get promoted beyond the basic level.”
 
“I don’t really care about that,” Tinaz said. “It’s strange, really. Once I used to daydream of glory, and imagine what I’d do if I became famous. And you know what? I don’t really find anything interesting about it at all.”
 
“But your career...”
 
“I’ll still be able to fly, won’t I? That’s enough.”
 
They were close enough to the cliffs for Sabira to slow herself down for landing. “It’s almost time for egg-laying,” she said. “I...”
 
Something hurtled down from above. It came swooping down almost vertically, wings folded against its gigantic body, and as it came, its cry shivered down Tinaz’ spine all the way to her toes. Sabira called back, her cry and the other’s mingling together, and she turned sharply, her wings beating.
 
Mother and daughter, who had never thought to meet again, came together in the air, and Tinaz watched, unable to speak.
 
*******************************
 
You’ll come to see me sometimes,” Tinaz said.
 
“Not only will I do that,” Sabira told her, “I’ll bring my chicks along. They need to see the crazy woman who’s responsible for their existence.”
 
“I’m going to put an end to the wild trapping,” Tinaz said. “If there’s nothing else I can do, there’s that.”
 
“It’s easier said than done.” Sabira pointed with her snout at the beach. “There are a lot of people involved, people in high places. I heard a lot while I was in the pens. But your supervisor, Jamshid –“
 
“Jamshid is involved in it?”
 
“No, he’s clean. I don’t think he even knows about it. You’ll still have your work cut out for you, though.”
 
“I have nothing to lose.” Tinaz grinned. “As you said, I’ll never advance in the service anyway. And I have everything to gain.”
 
Sabira looked up at where her mother waited, perched on the cliff edge. “You know something, crazy woman?”
 
“What?”
 
“If there’s anyone who can do it, it will be you.” She touched Tinaz’ head gently with the tip of her snout. “You’ve got depths I don’t think you know exist.”
 
Tinaz nodded. “I’ll be seeing you, Sabira.”
 
“There is absolutely no doubt about that, young woman.” Sabira turned her head. “There come Jamshid and Fuad to fetch you. Go.”
 
From the saddle behind Jamshid, as Fuad flew for home, Tinaz looked back at the rookery. The cliff was already a brown blur in the distance, but she thought she could still see a white dot, and a grey one.
 
“Jamshid,” she said, “there’s something I think you ought to know.”
 
“What?”
 
Tinaz took a deep breath, leaned forward, and began.
 
 
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014