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Asia’s Distorted Image (9/00)

In Indonesia, devout Muslim women named Gayatri or Laxmi read the Bhagavad Gita. Meanwhile, in India, Muslims and Hindus share a culture of co-existence and assimilation. Yet, such realities are largely concealed by a cultural mafia that legitimizes and markets stereotypes. They would have people believe instead that all Muslims are fundamentalists, all Christians are out to convert the world, and all Hindus are fanatics.

What is Ganesha doing in the Indonesian drawing room of a devout Muslim? How come women who pray to Allah five times a day are named Parvati, Laxmi, Gayatri, or Devi? Are these social aberrations? No, they’re the norm in thousands of Muslim households in Indonesia. In one of several visited during a recent trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. The book wasn’t just sitting on a shelf, it was being assiduously studied, with paragraphs underlined and notes in the margins. read more