On Argumentation

There are two aspects of an argument: its content and its construction. On this blog our focus is almost entirely on the latter; the only reason we have content is that we cannot do without it to construct an argument – an argument has to be about something. However, we have no material or emotional stake in the content; it is just a means to an end. In this post we explore in more detail the specifics of the end we have in mind.

There are at least three attributes of the construction of an argument that are critical: Credibility (whether the argument is supported by evidence); Coherence (whether the argument meets the tests of logic); and Consistency (whether the argument is free of contradictions). In order to illustrate these attributes we will resort to content provided by a participant in an earlier discussion.

The argument offered by the participant is the following (the complete text can be seen here):

Here is what’s going on and what will continue in India once their [Muslims] population gets more than Hindus
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Pakistani-Christians-convert-to-Islam-because-of-threats-and-intimidations-21041.html

Am I being paranoid, or just learning from history and present? What’s your take, you “really” think India can remain peaceful with so many Muslims? What do you think is the difference in Indian Muslims that they won’t go same route as their Pakistani and Bangladeshi brethren.

[As mentioned earlier, we have no interest in the content of this argument; for our purposes it could just as easily refer to Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and Ireland.]

The participant has concluded his comment with the remark: “With this I rest my case.” Since he has used a legal paradigm to present his argument, we shall stay with it for the examination of its validity.

In a legal environment, the plaintiff is free to enter any argument he or she desires. It does not matter whether it is considered paranoid or otherwise. All that is required in the first instance is that argument be credible, i.e., it should be supported by evidence.

There are two components in the factual part of the argument (that the population of Muslims would exceed that of Hindus in India at some point in time and that non-Muslims are ill treated in Pakistan). From this is inferred the conclusion that when the population of Muslims exceeds that of Hindus in India, the latter would be subjected to the same ill treatment as in Pakistan. Let us examine the factual and inferential parts of the argument in turn.

The first claim in the factual part can be easily verified by statistical methods. The participant has not provided any evidence despite our request in an earlier exchange and our reference to a summary of the Sachar Committee Report where it is stated that “Muslim population growth has slowed down as fertility has declined substantially. This does away with the concern that Muslim population growth would be able to outnumber Hindus or change the religious demography in any meaningful way.” However, in order to go through this exercise, let us assume that the claim is true, i.e., that Muslims would outnumber Hindus in India at some point in the future.

The second claim in the factual part is that non-Muslims are ill-treated in Pakistan. For this the participant has furnished evidence which is in agreement with most other assessments of the situation in Pakistan. So, the factual claims of the participant’s argument satisfy the requirement of credibility.

We come now to the inferential part which we can separate into two components: that the ill-treatment of non-Muslims in Pakistan is attributable to Muslims in Pakistan and that the behavior of Muslims in India would be the same as that of the Muslims in Pakistan. We can examine each in turn to see if they meet the tests of coherence and consistency.

While the Pakistani state is undoubtedly guilty of allowing the ill-treatment of non-Muslims it is a contestable logical extension to attribute that failure to Muslims in general. There is much evidence from many parts of the world to support the claim that most communal violence is not spontaneous. Rather, it is instigated by agents with political interests and they succeed because the state either remains passive or is actively involved. The participant needs to provide additional support for the assertion implied in this component of the argument. However, once again let us assume the participant is correct in order to complete the exercise, i.e., it is accepted that Muslims ill-treat non-Muslims in Pakistan.

We arrive now at the second and even more contestable component of the participant’s inference: that Muslims in India would behave in the same way towards non-Muslims as their brethren in Pakistan or Bangladesh. The consistency of this argument can be challenged in at least two ways.

First, at the time of the partition in 1947 some Muslims decided to migrate to Pakistan while others stayed in India. We know from a lot of research that the process of migration always involves self-selection – the people who migrate are different from the people who don’t. One just has to look at the migration from rural to urban areas to verify that the migrants are not a random selection from the rural population. If hatred of non-Muslims was an inherent characteristic of Muslims, then all should have migrated when presented the opportunity to live in an exclusively Muslim space. To make this more concrete, the participant would have to claim that there was no difference in the worldviews of Maulana Maudoodi (who migrated) and Maluana Azad (who didn’t). This is a strong claim that is not unequivocally true at face value.

[For the record, I personally don’t subscribe to this line of examination although the defence remains at liberty to pursue it. The migration at the time of Partition was not voluntary for virtually all non-Muslims in what is now Pakistan and for a significant number of the Muslims who migrated from what is now India. However, that does not imply that there is no difference amongst Muslims.]

Second, in an earlier comment the reader himself made a distinction between North Indian and South Indian Muslims: “Situation would have been less alarming had Muslims from North India would have been asked to leave to East and West Pakistan while all non-Muslims in India (sic), in my opinion it would have been unfair to ask South Indians Muslims to leave due to cultural differences.”

Here, the reader’s argument fails the test of consistency because it is contradicted by a claim that he himself had advanced earlier. If cultural differences between South and North Indian Muslims can lead to different behavior then it can be argued that cultural differences between Pakistani Muslims (who are themselves divided in a number of distinct ethnicities) and Indian Muslims can also lead to variations in behavior.

In addition, when Muslims in India outnumber Hindus, the former would not constitute a monolithic cultural bloc. They would still be divided into North and South Indian Muslims and into various linguistic groups. There is no prime facie reason to believe that they would unite spontaneously to mistreat non-Muslims. Even if they did, there is no convincing reason to expect that they would gain from doing so in a situation in which Muslims and non-Muslims would be equally matched in numbers and a secular state would be in place to prevent violations of the law.

Our cross-examination of the argument thus leads to the tentative conclusion that its construction is flawed. One component of its factual part lacks credibility and both components of its inferential part do not unambiguously pass the tests of coherence and consistency.

 

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26 Responses to “On Argumentation”

  1. Vinod Says:

    My Pakistani friend’s father cannot accept him marrying a Malay muslim because Malay muslims follow a different school of jurisprudence than the subcontinent muslims. And I’ve already mentioned the layers of identity (Bengali, Bihari etc) that his mother puts up. His father’s rejection of the idea is more serious than my father’s rejection of me marrying a non-Brahmin.
    If only non-muslims knew how muslims were divided…

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vinod: It is amazing how emotion can make one blind to realities that are unfolding right in front of one’s eyes and lose the ability to reason. As you illustrate, even members of one family find it hard to agree on a common objective. How can one expect millions of disparate people to line up behind any common goal? Having forsaken reason, it is no surprise that people can become such willing tools in the hands of instigators.

  2. sree Says:

    Even if Muslims do not outnumber Hindus they are increasing their proportion in the population. Muslims in Assam, Bengal and Kerala already form a large portion of the population in these states. It is said that Jinnah just wanted a country for Muslims of the sub-continent. And it just happened that once such a country was formed, non-muslims were immediately cleansed from that region, while Muslims remained in large numbers in the region which was not included in the state for Muslims. Is it not possible, that the muslim population in these states might demand a separate country for themselves and drive out non-muslims as has already happened before. Is it not possible that this process might continually repeat after each time period.

    If cultural differences between South and North Indian Muslims can lead to different behavior then it can be argued that cultural differences between Pakistani Muslims (who are themselves divided in a number of distinct ethnicities) and Indian Muslims can also lead to variations in behavior.
    Even if there are variations between South Indian and North Indian Muslims and for that among North Indian Muslims themselves, what is relevant is their attitude towards non-muslims. The variations among muslims are in ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious practices. I don’t see any difference in their attitude towards non-muslims.
    Their actions towards non-muslims depends on their demographic strength. So if muslims in India seem less bigoted towards the non-muslims than those in Pakistan or Bangladesh, it is due to the difference in their proportion in the population of the respective countries and not due to other variations.

  3. SouthAsian Says:

    Sree: It is hard to envisage the scenario that you foresee. Let us leave aside the conclusion of the Sachar Report that Muslim population growth is unlikely to change the religious demography in any meaningful way. Before 1947 there were Muslim majority areas that could constitute a homeland for Muslims and a non-Indian government with the discretion to decide whether there would be one successor state or two. Neither of these conditions hold now. You will have to spell out in more detail the scenario in, say, Bengal, whereby the Muslim population could push through a demand for a separate country and drive out non-Muslims. By what mechanism would such a demand be realized?

    It is hard to accept the fact that the attitude of every Muslim in the world towards non-Muslims is the same. How has that determination been made? Even if true, it should not matter in practical terms in India where the proportion of Muslims is about one in seven.

  4. sree Says:

    May be the proportion of Muslims in India as a whole might not change substantially. But in some states, for example Kerala, it is increasing.

    http://www.hindu.com/2004/09/23/stories/2004092306010500.htm

    http://www.prokerala.com/kerala/religions.htm

    In Kerala between 1991 and 2001, the hindu population dropped by 1.48 percentage while the Muslim population increased by 1.7 percentage. You can see the difference in proportion being much narrow in the population of children below six years. That gives a glimpse of the religious demography of Kerala in the future.

    As far as the scenario of Muslims driving out non-muslims goes, it will depend on whether a strong central government exists, as in now, or not. If there is a strong central government and the proportion of muslims in India as a whole remain low, then there is limited possibility of this happening. Otherwise the fate of hindus in the muslim majority areas will be sealed. The mechanism involved will be the use of violence, targeting non-muslims with the support of one or more Islamic countries. Consider the fate of hindus in Kashmir even with the presence of a strong centre.

    Attitude of every single Muslim will not be the same. But that of the muslim community is similar. You can find Islamic terrorism in almost every non muslim country with muslim majority areas.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sree: Thanks for the data sources. If these rates of growth persist, how many years would it take before Muslims outnumber Hindus in Kerala?

      Although I see the demographic trends you have highlighted, I still find it difficult to imagine how Muslims would drive out Hindus in Kerala. Kerala is a state deep inside India with neighboring states from which a force could easily be mobilized that would control any disorder. In this sense, the lesson from Kashmir is the opposite of what you suggest. Even in an actual Muslim majority area and despite some internal movements for an exclusive space and actual support and fomentation from neighboring hostile territory, the movement for separation has not succeeded.

      I also don’t see how any Muslim country could intervene in Kerala without inviting punitive international reprisals. A huge number of Muslim countries surrounding a small Israel have not been able to carve out a Palestinian state after more than 60 years.

      I found it ironic that the link you provided was to an article that began with the following sentence: “Kerala has a unique record in India for the harmonious coexistence of diverse religions.” Are your fears justified by the record?

  5. Vinod Says:

    Sree, how do you explain terrorism in muslim majority countries where muslims kill muslims? For eg – the bomb blasts in Pakistan that kill innocent muslims on the streets. That too is done in the name of Islam.

  6. sree Says:

    My point is that even if Muslims do not outnumber Hindus, once they cross a certain proportion, they will forcefully push for Islamization of society which naturally being unacceptable to the others will lead to conflict. If there is still a strong Indian union with high proportion of Hindus, this will not lead to a situation where non-Muslims face ethnic cleansing on a large scale from Muslim majority areas. The safety of Hindus in Muslim majority areas is directly linked to the continued existence of the Indian union.

    My fear is whether the harmonious co-existence of diverse religions will withstand the changes in religious demography that will follow in the future. Religious harmony in Kerala have had only a few exceptions and those being Hyder Ali’s and Tipu Sultan’s invasions, Moplah Rebellion, and Marad massacre, all perpetuated by Muslims. So non-Muslims are rightly worried about the increase in Muslim population. Any time the Muslims have had the opportunity or even sensed an opportunity to ethnically cleanse non-Muslims, they have tried to make use of it.

    • Vinod Says:

      Sree, what does ‘Islamization of society’ mean? Do you mean conversion to Islam of non-muslims or call for Shariah?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sree: In my view there are two approaches to argumentation. One can look at the evidence and let it suggest a conclusion that can be further debated OR one can start with a conclusion and interpret the evidence to support or reject that conclusion.

      How should be look at the evidence you have mentioned in the case of Kerala? I do not know enough about the history of Kerala of the period you mention so I looked up all the incidents you cited on Wikipedia (I know that Wikipedia is not something I will cite in an academic paper but it is alright as a common starting point on a blog. The good thing about a blog is that one doesn’t have to be an expert on anything. People with better knowledge would correct errors and fill in the gaps).

      Reading the entries on Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, I can’t see how they can be classified as invasions. Hyder Ali was a native of the area and a trusted commander of the ruler who made him the commander-in-chief of his army. When the regime went into decline Hyder Ali assumed power. I am positive there were many cases in those times when Hindu commander-in-chiefs did the same but they were not termed invasions.

      One must keep in mind that the India of those times was comprised of small principalities that were constantly in conflict with each other. These conflicts were rarely along religious lines. All the forces were of mixed religions and the alliances also crossed religious lines. To interpret these as religious conflicts is a misreading of the evidence.

      I read in the entry for Tipu Sultan that “In 1791, some Maratha horsemen under Raghunath Rao Patwardhan raided the temple and monastery of Sringeri Shankaracharya, killing and wounding many, and plundering the monastery of all its valuable possessions.” These kinds of raids were also common in those days and this is accepted as the pattern of those times. Why should it be interpreted differently as religiously motivated if a similar raid had been carried out by Muslim horsemen?

      The Moplah rebellion began as a revolt against the British in response to the Khilafat Movement launched by Gandhi and opposed by Jinnah. During this rebellion, different segments of the society lined up differently, some with the British and some with the rebels. The rebellion assumed the shape of a conflict between the peasantry and the landowners. In the resulting conflicts many atrocities were committed but similar atrocities have not been uncommon in agrarian struggles in India. In most cases they are inter-caste conflicts and they are not given the color of attempts at ethnic cleansing by one religion of another. I was quite surprised to read in the Wikipedia entry that “In 1971, the Government of Kerala recognized the active participants of the events as ‘freedom fighters’.”

      The Marad massacre was the killing of eight Hindus by Muslims for which the perpetrators were tried, convicted and sentenced. How many incidents can be counted in India where eight or more people of one identity have been killed by people of another identity. These are not given the interpretation of attempts at ethnic cleansing.

      In my view the evidence does not support your interpretation of the events you have mentioned.

      In addition, one has to remain consistent in the argument. You had started this discussion by arguing that Muslims would want a separate homeland when they obtained a majority. Now you are arguing that they would push for an Islamization of society. The former is a nationalist objective with the aim of separation. The latter is a religious objective with no necessity of separation. Which position do you wish to argue?

    • sree Says:

      By Islamization of society, I mean Islamic rules forced upon all, including in the public sphere. It would start with Islamic rules being forced on Muslims and then it would be progressively extended to the non-muslims too. In some places in Kerala where they have much influence, they make Muslim women wear headscarves with threat of violence. They consider the non-muslim women as persons of low moral character and behave towards them accordingly.

      In the first two events, the names of which I have given, a common feature is the local Muslim population turning on the non-muslims. Along with Hyder Ali’s and Tippu Sultan’s invasion force from Mysore, the local Muslim population also conducted terrible atrocities on their fellow non-muslim citizens of North Kerala. Similarly during the Moplah rebellion too, which also happened in North Kerala, the Muslims committed atrocities on non-muslims. It was not an inter-caste conflict as the Muslims targeted not just the Hindus, but the Christians too. In both cases, when they had a grip on power, they immediately turned on the non-muslims.
      The Marad massacre is a more recent event in which the Muslim community of that area participated in the massacre of 8 Hindus. The arms used for the massacre were stored in the local mosque and after the massacre the perpetrators escaped to the local mosque where the Muslim women prevented the police from arresting them.

      The point I am making is that, to my knowledge the harmonious existence of different religions in Kerala have had just these few exceptions and that, this religious harmony will be threatened if the proportion of Muslims rise against the non-muslims. This is my fear and I believe there are enough justifiable reasons for this.

      And regarding the position that I am trying to argue, it is that the Muslims on reaching a higher proportion will attempt to introduce Islamic rules in the society which will naturally be resisted by the non-muslims. Then the muslims will try to obtain a separate state where they could achieve an Islamic society. Their aim of separation will be to achieve their own society based on Islamic rules.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Sree: It was mentioned in the post that one of the tests an argument has to pass is consistency whereby it avoids contradicting itself. We can look at the beginning and end of your comment to apply this test.

        At the conclusion you say that “Muslims on reaching a higher proportion will attempt to introduce Islamic rules in the society” which implies that all Muslims will behave this way since this is their highest goal. At the beginning you say that Islamization of society “would start with Islamic rules being forced on Muslims.” This suggests that all Muslims would not behave the same way and there would be enough resisting to require others to coerce them. Both assertions cannot be true – the argument contradicts itself and fails the test of consistency. How would you fix it?

        The second test is that of coherence – the argument has to pass the test of logic. Once it is conceded that some Muslims would try and force others to be more Islamic one can consider the Shri Ram Sena that tries to force Hindus to be more Hindu. What is the difference? This kind of moral coercion is a common phenomenon in the world (e.g., the Religious Right in the US). Why does it assume special significance in the case of Muslims? The argument fails the test of coherence. How would you fix this aspect of the argument?

      • sree Says:

        I do not mean to say that each and every muslim will actively participate in any attempt to change a secular society to an Islamic society. if you take the Muslim population on the basis of their attitude towards the establishment of an Islamic society, you will have some fundamentalists, a large number of sympathizers, some who are indifferent and some against it. So what I fear and am arguing is, with an increase in the proportion of Muslims, the number of fundamentalists and their sympathizers will increase and they will push for the islamization of society more vigorously.

        In almost all the countries where Muslims are a majority they seem to be successful in coercing other Muslims and non-muslims to follow Islamic laws. I don’t think the Hindu right wing or the US right wing have been able to force their religious outlook on the others, even though they are trying to do so.

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Sree: This issue keeps coming back to one point: When would Muslims become the majority in India or in some part of India? We need to first determine if this is even a reasonable premise and, if so, what is the time period involved. If it is a long time period, attitudes towards fundamentalism can change significantly during the interim.

          The reality is that there are fundamentalists in every society and ways have to be found to contain them. The solution is not to banish an entire community because it contains some fundamentalists. Given that there are seven times more Hindus than Muslims in India, the absolute number of Hindu fundamentalists cannot be insignificant. How is India dealing with them? It should employ the same means to deal with Muslim fundamentalists.

  7. sree Says:

    Sree, how do you explain terrorism in muslim majority countries where muslims kill muslims? For eg – the bomb blasts in Pakistan that kill innocent muslims on the streets. That too is done in the name of Islam.
    That just points to the mindless cycle of violence that the ideology offers. After non-muslims are removed, they just move on to some other hapless sect or sub-group and accuse them of not being Islamic enough and target them.
    I guess ideologies promoting violence need to have some sort of enemy, and if the enemy is gone, they have to find another enemy to remain relevant. So the different groups within the group target some of their own who are perceived as enemies, till they can all agree on one or more common enemies.

    • Vinod Says:

      Sree, is Islam a religion or an ideology? Do you equate religion and ideology? Or is ideology a distilled version of some aspects of religion used for certain ends?

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Sree: Here you have shifted grounds again and after moving from nationalism to Islamization you are referring to a violent ideology. But look at the historical evidence again. Consider the record of Christianity starting with the Crusades, the massacre of Native Americans, the Inquisition and religious wars with Europe, the violence against people of color in Africa and the Americas lasting as late as the last quarter of the 20th Century, the Holocaust nothing like which has ever been recorded, the conflict in Northern Ireland. After all this people do not categorize Christianity as a violent ideology that is forever looking for enemies. Rather, they explain all of these incidents with reference to the politics of those times. Are you not applying a double standard when you characterize Islam as a violent ideology.

      Within Islam there have been many variations over time and space. Most accounts consider Moorish Spain as the most religiously tolerant society of the times. In India, there were variations between the periods of Akbar and Aurangzeb. Today, there are variations between the mindless violence in Pakistan and the situation in Malaysia which is also a Muslim majority country.

      A sweeping generalization does not help moving forward with the argument. You are following the line of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump both of whom are potential Republican contenders for the US presidency in 2012. Read this amusing interview with Trump and then follow the comments from readers.

    • sree Says:

      I do not believe in the presence of any divine entity, and so consider religions to be ideologies which prescribe some rules on how people are to live, and provide their own version of the understanding of the world.

      I think, Christianity of the earlier centuries was a violent ideology before being reformed. The Christians were killing their own kind as much as they were killing others, to attribute religious reasons for their violent actions. The Muslims themselves declare their hatred for non-muslims as the reason for their assault on the non-muslims.

      There might be some muslim majority countries not indulging in violence against non-muslims, but for how long will it last. The probability of them taking a path of violence against non-muslims is high. According to this wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Malaysia, even Malaysia does not seem to be an example of a fully tolerant state.

      • SouthAsian Says:

        Sree: We have to distinguish between religions and ideologies because the mapping from religion to ideology is not one-to-one; it is one-to-many. In other words, the same religion can give rise to very different ideologies. The same Hinduism can support Gandhi’s pacifism and Savarkar’s aggressive ideology. In Christianity, one can choose to turn the other cheek or seek an eye for an eye. The same Islam can provide the basis for an aggressive Salafi ideology, a quiescent Tablighi ideology, and an inclusive Sufi ideology. The relevant intellectual question is to ask why at certain periods in time, a particular ideology becomes dominant over the others. With reference to Islam, the following article will be found helpful by readers:

        http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/65229/charles-tripp/all-muslim-politics-is-local

        About Christianity, one is not speaking of earlier centuries – the Holocaust is less than a 100 years old. And if as violent an ‘ideology’ as Christianity can be reformed, why can’t Islam? A related question would be to ask what led to the reform of Christianity over the last 75 years if that is when it reformed?

        We can have more to say about Malaysia when you provide an example of a fully tolerant state against which the others can be compared.

      • sree Says:

        I accept that there would be different ideologies in a religion. But I find the violent ideologies in Islam to be more prevalent. It might be due to their being more vocal and consequently their views and actions being more visible through the media, or may be being a non-muslim I take notice of them more.

        About Christianity, I was referring to the crusades and the religious wars in Europe. Holocaust was the result of extreme nationalism and rasicm. I don’t think Hitler or Nazism used Christianity as a justification for their actions. Islam might be reformed, but non-muslims have to face it till then.

        I shouldn’t have used the words ‘fully tolerant’. Still I think India is a more tolerant state compared to Malaysia. From what I read, it says that states in Malaysia have Sharia courts for some matters of Muslims. Also Malaysia has Islam as the state religion and is also a member of OIC.

        • Vinod Says:

          Sree, many Christian churches supported the Nazis. Many others opposed the Nazis. What do you make of it?
          About the violent ideologies being dominant among muslims, are you holding that opinion based on what the media projects of the muslims?

        • SouthAsian Says:

          Sree: There are really two approaches to this issue. Either one argues that Islam is inherently more violent or one seeks an explanation for why there is more violence amongst Muslims at this time. The weakness of the former perspective is that it cannot explain the variations in violence over time. If one goes over the past one would note that the level of violence has increased during the period of neocolonialism following the Second World War when the entire Middle East was carved up and controlled for various reasons. Take a country like Iraq and plot the level of religious violence over the last 500 years. There is no uniformity over the period which suggests that it is not genetics that explains violence but contextual causes.

          I feel you are mistaken about the Holocaust. The cause could not be nationalism because both Christians and Jews were German; it could not be racism because both were Caucasians. It was anti-Semitism which has deep roots in Christian antipathy towards Jews. It was as recent as 2000 when Pope Paul visited Israel and apologized for centuries of Christian persecution of Jews including the Holocaust.

          I feel that many would dispute your claim that India is more tolerant than Malaysia. The kind of communal violence witnessed in India, the number of deaths attributed to them, and the failure to apprehend the perpetrators has not been seen in Malaysia. To have a more objective determination, we should specify the indicators that should be used to characterize tolerance.

  8. SouthAsian Says:

    There is an excellent video discussion anchored in a presentation by Tariq Ramadan. It highlights the diversity in the Muslim world and identifies the currents and cross-currents that are likely to shape events in the Middle East.

    http://www.americanprogress.org/events/2011/04/islammiddleeast.html

    The presentation is also archived in The Best From Elsewhere section of the blog:

    http://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/from-elsewhere/#75

  9. Identityless Says:

    I see a lot of comments regarding Islam and violence. There are too many exceptions to the list of Muslim majority/dominant countries that have exported terror/violence. While Saudi Arabia has exported terror, Indonesia and Malaysia are not guilty despite their huge Muslim populations. Neither has the Balkans. I imagine several other demographic factors contribute, not just religion.

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