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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Religious Fundamentalism, Fanaticism And Communalism. Are They Syonymous ?

Posted by: danish Ahmed 12:47 AM

This Sunday's newspaper carries views and opinions of some noted journalists and intellectuals on the orgies of violence and bloodshed carried out in the name of religion in the state of Orissa. I feel that in the process, terms like religion, religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism have been used too loosely, and in some instances, almost interchangeably. For the section of citizenry that keeps distance from politics and social processes and takes a free ride in the Juggernaut of democracy and free society these terms and concepts might sound similar. But for the informed individual the difference between these terms are as great as the two ends of a spectrum. It would therefore be prudent to define these terms in their original connotation and in consonance with the political philosophy around which our society is built.

Religion And Secularism in India

The Constitution of India declares the nation as a secular entity but unlike the concept of secularism followed in countries like France and Turkey, Indian secularism believes in the tolerance of all religions. The term secularism implies the absence of any divine element or aspect. But for a nation that has Mahatma Gandhi as its ideologue, religion cannot be divorced from politics and the society. It is not just that Gandhi prayed a lot, his principles of non-violence and truth had seeds in religious philosophy. However, for Gandhi there were two forms of religion. The first form consisted of a set of principles and a code of ethics that all major religions propagated. For instance, theft, murder etc are wrong and punishable by all religions. The other form of religion is the approach and rituals which varies from group to group. Many secular countries, especially those of Europe treat the universal code of ethic as secular progressive thought but Gandhi and his contemporary leaders of India redefined secularism not as a godless concept but as a concept that gives space to all religions. Religion in India was to play a unifying role as well as help individuals evolve spiritually unlike the role it was to play in Pakistan.

Religious Fundamentalism And Fanaticism

Religious fundamentalism and fanaticism are again terms that need to be astutely defined. If fundamentalism means adhering to the fundamentals of a religious doctrine then even Gandhi was a fundamentalist as he was a strict vegetarian and performed ritualistic worship every day. In that sense fundamentalism is rather desirable since the fundamentals of all major religions require adherents to conform to the principles of peaceful co-existence and perform acts for spiritual evolution.

Fanaticism on the other hand is dedication to fundamentals with such devotion and so devoid of reason that the followers end up overdoing or even doing the opposite of what the fundamentals required. Muslims in India imitating Arabic culture (even those unrelated to Islam) is an example of harmless fanaticism. More serious fanaticism is manifested in instances where scientific facts are discarded in preference to superstitions and myths or where religious decrees (usually in matters of personal laws ) are passed which are found to be contradictory to the law of the land as well as to religious laws (it is found in both Muslim and Hindu communities)

Communalism

Communalism is a concept which has least to do with religion although it almost always uses religion to manifest itself. Broadly defining, communalism is identifying one's own aspirations and fear (especially socio-political-economic) with the aspirations and fears of one's own community rather than society as a whole. However, in the context of the Indian subcontinent the term communalism denotes an organization/mobilization of like-minded but aggressive, intolerant and nearly violent group of individuals against other sections of society. Communalism plays a major role in the subcontinent as it is home to numerous religious, linguistic and ethnic groups, jostling for place in political mainstream, often with antagonism for those belonging to the "other community" which is held responsible for past violations as well as nefarious designs for the future. A very disturbing aspect of communalism is the fact that primary loyalty is shown towards the group that has the highest degree of commonality not on the basis of conscious and deliberate actions, belief and other elements of social contract but accidental factors like membership of religious, linguistic or ethnic community. Religious fanaticism is often result of convoluted logic but there is no logic in communalism because reasoning and rationalism are concepts alien to it.

It took mankind thousands of years to evolve into civil society based on rationalism, reason and even faith but it takes one moment of hatred to takes us back to the prehistoric times when our ancestors battled for survival. In fact, underneath our sophisticated and civilized demeanor many of us remain the same primitive hunters, fighters, warring for survival in a hostile world. Apart from other wild animals and furious nature herself we also have to fight against fellow humans from the "other clan/tribe" who are constantly conspiring to attack us and steal our food, women and our children. To protect our own possessions and interests we would have to attack first and incapaciate the enemy or, at the least, be prepared for retaliation in case of an attack on us. It is this primitive "herd mentality" of distrust and hatred that drives the force of communalism in the civil society.

As opposed to prehistory, this trend in modern society has always been driven by a few individuals who exploit it to acquire leadership of their respective communities. From blatantly provocative orations and sloganeering to indoctrination at the grass root level, all efforts to create an atmosphere of fear, distrust, mass hysteria and self-righteous rage are often found to be politically motivated and hollow. India has had the misfortune of being turned into a laboratory of such violent and divisive political experiments more than once. The first one led to the partition of the nation and a bloodbath that left an indelible scar in the national psyche of all three nations. The Muslim League's experiment was later emulated by Hindu communalists even if faith based antagonism was incompatible with the Hindu ethos. Hindu communalism actually predates its Muslim counterpart but it could never command the same level of popularity as the latter did. Hindu communalism reached its climax in the late 80's and early 90's riding on the wave of Hindutva ideology centered around Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The Sangh Parivar led by the lesser radical BJP waged an all out war on the existing political arrangement , evoking sub-nationalist emotion of a people already dismayed by years of congress misrule.

Communalists always view civilization as a perpetual war between communities and rewrite history portraying their own community of being historically wronged. It painted the Muslim rule of India as one of intolerance, subjugation and systematic persecution of the majority community although historical evidences reveal a completely different picture (will talk on that in some other post). In post-independence politics, it portrayed the Muslims as the "pariah" group with whose support the corrupt and inefficient Congress remained in power and the group that was in one way or the other responsible for all ills of the Indian society. It accused the Congress of appeasing Muslims for vote-bank politics and it accused Muslims of keeping a corrupt and inefficient Congress in power for selfish ends. It never explained how a community constituting less than 15% of the population could be held responsible for hijacking the government's agenda. Equally intriguing was the charge of appeasement when Sachar Commission reported that post-independence, while other under-privileged sections had seen some upliftment the Muslims had in fact become poorer and more backward. Shouldn't the pampered minority constitute the creamy layer of the society like the Jews of Al-Andulas or to cite a contemporary analogy, the Jews of the US ?

But more than indoctrination or misinformation campaigns it is the remnants of the tribal mentality in us that fans communalism. For a long time I used to call this gorilla mentality but lately i have been wondering if it would be judicious to attribute a human vice to beasts! That very Sunday i came across another news item of a baby elephant having fallen into a pit 2 kms from a village in the Simlipal region of Orissa. The adult elephants did not allow forest guards to get close enough to attempt rescue operation. Instead the elephants summoned their comrades from the jungle and formed a large chain to pull out the baby. Had the elephant belonged to communalist organizations like VHP,SIMI or Bajrang Dal they would have left the baby there and would have gone and attacked the village instead !

As i said before, communalism in modern civil society is irrational and always based on misinformation because of which the movement loses its mojo after reaching a certain level. The two communal experiments carried out in India have both failed but not before causing irreparable damage to India's social fabric. The Muslim League's experiment resulted in Pakistan, a failed state wholly dependent on its American masters for existence. The BJP was successful initially but it could never garner enough support to form government on its own. Coalition dharma forced it to shed its communal agenda but that doesn't stop it from conducting experiments in certain parts of the country. One such experiment is underway in Orissa where the concepts of religion, religious fanaticism and communalism are being used to deceive the people.

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