Shrek Comments and I reply. On Religon/Secularism

A reader “Shrek” posted a fantastic comment in response to my last post. It also brings up some things I should elaborate on, so I have quoted parts the comment and added my replies/explanations to it.

In response to  “They know nothing about Muslims”

It is seen (empirical observation- can’t vouch, don’t have data) that most polarized parts are those with significant population from multiple faiths e.g Old city- Hyderabad, parts of Gujarat etc . Part of the reason I reckon, is that, when faced with people from other faiths, each one clings more strongly to his own and then it becomes an “us vs them” situation.

The only way to break this shackle would be to educate- not on faith, but on philosophy of each religion. Unfortunately, all of our schools stay away from such contentious issues. So, there is only imitation and social learning of attitudes- which let’s face it, have been highly bigoted (around the world) in the past.

E.g. When I was ~7 years old, there was only one other family with a kid my age. I got along fairly well with that kid and attended his birthday sermon (they called a pastor/preacher to their house for that). But, the day after that – his mother turned me away from their gate saying “you are hindus, we are christians, don’t try to be friends with my son, we don’t fit.” I was naturally disappointed, but most kids would imitate such behaviour thinking that is the right way.

Hotspots of communal violence in India are indeed places where the  conflicting communities form significant portions of the population. This however, does not automatically mean that the respective cultures know about each other, In fact, distrust, isolation and misinformation is also highly prevalent in these areas. Violence needs ignorance else education (as you suggest) will do nothing, right? look at other places in india where Muslims and Hindus live in peace in spite of large numbers – Kerala, Tamil nadu, Delhi etc.

I am not asserting that all bigotry comes out of ignorance of the other faith, but that ignorance plays a significant role, and that hate-mongering leaders (of all religious bents) would like to perpetuate ignorance.

About the linking of nationalism with anti-secularism.

Linking nationalism to anti-secularism and Hinduism is a much more recent phenomenon caused in part due to the association of those claiming to be secular with demonstrably anti-national voices such as Syed Geelani and in part because anything the conservatives say – irrespective of the merit of the idea by itself, is denounced.

The specific instance of anti-secularism as demonstrated by the derision to the word secular might be a new thing, but anti-secularism is most definitely not. The RSS was formed in 1925, various regional parties, all claiming to be nationalist – Punjabi, Tamil, Assamese- have been around for a long time. It also serves to remember that while Gandhi and his teaching had a strong element of Nationalism, Nehruvian Congress and the party after that has been less and less nationalist. This in some ways created the secular vs nationalist divide. BJP, as long as it takes orders from the RSS and projects itself as nationalistic, will continue to be considered anti-secular. Hinduism teaches pluralism, but secularism as envisioned in the west or as many of us understand it is not something the Sangh stands for.

One also needs to differentiate between understanding and realizing that secularism as perpetuated by the Congress is a joke and the new, systematic effort to malign the very idea of secularism.

Pay close attention to this

That brings us nicely to the final point I’d like to make- I don’t know whether you would endorse adopting the patronizing tone with conservatives if it was effective (and if the ‘problem’ really did go away). But, condescension is an almost certain way to evoke resentment and anger. If you really believe in liberal values and in their superiority over the points conservatives try to make – treat them with respect (the people, not necessarily the ideas). Civility is sometimes overrated, but is necessary most other times. Instead of addressing valid concerns, the reaction to most conservatives has been to reach out for crutches like “bigot, troll, Indian Taliban,” and treating them with general apathy (hoping the problem goes away) etc.

Missing is a sense of perspective and proportion and such crutches point to an intellectual drought. And just because someone otherwise bad supports a morally right act doesn’t make it morally wrong. It still becomes our moral duty to act irrespective of who else supports such an issue.

A counterpoint- is in order perhaps – The Uniform civil code, which implies equal treatment of all people irrespective of faith has been made into a conservative issue whereas it really is a liberal/secular one.

I could not agree more.  The typical reaction to conservatives, whether of the cow protection variety or of high intellectual caliber, has almost always been a one of condescension. As if not conforming to western ideas of liberty, democracy, secularism were a result of brain damage. (not that people with brain damage should be treated that way, but they are)

However, one needs to ask not just why liberals dont want a uniform civil code, but also why the conservatives want it.

He makes some more important points about the role of history in name calling in his post on CRI: Ideological Lables

If words like “liberal” and “secular” have become curse words for many, it is because, hypocrisy, duality and bias (bigotry in many cases), too obvious to ignore, have become rampant amongst those claiming to be secular or liberal. Intellectual consistency dictates that just as the burden of disowning bigotry was put on Hindutva movement, the same burden also lies with those identifying with liberal movements (or for that matter any such movements).

Or we could just ignore this and go back to calling each other names, using labels as curses, obviating the need for any intellectual effort and critical thought on either side.

Note: When I use the term “Liberal” about political parties, am talking about the left leaning, socialist ideology. I am not a liberal in this sense – as a casual reading of my blog will reveal. However, conservativism in India and abroad is usually associated with religious sentiments and social/moral protectionist beliefs.

What if Tebow were Muslim: Indian Edition

Tim Tebow is an American football player who made news because he knelt and prayed before a game. He was made fun of by night show hosts and other liberal media outlets tried to point out the Christianizing of sports. We have a very different set of values than the US. We believe in live and let live. If an Indian player makes a public display of his faith, very likely it would be talked about in a respectful way.

[quote style=”1″] what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? He’s not. So maybe it doesn’t matter. There is no way to separate the man and the religion. Some people praise him for it, others recoil. When this happens, avid defenders of Tebow invoke freedom of religion. But as Tebowmania makes its way into politics, sports, religion and the everyday life of the mainstream United States, it is important to think about how we approach religion in this country. How we approach religious freedom in this country. Do we accept freedom of religion, any religion? Or do we accept freedom of Christianity? Salon [/quote]

Tim Tebow is an American football player who made news because he knelt and prayed before a game. He was made fun of by night show hosts and other liberal media outlets tried to point out the Christianizing of sports. Christian preachers across the US spoke in glowing terms about Tebow’s faith, and fundamentalists like Pat Robertson used the incident to blast the anti-christian bias in the liberal media.

Everyone agrees, though, that if it were a muslim player who knelt to pray in the US, it would be the conservatives who would speak derisively and liberals would just wait for a conservative to say something racist and then harp on about the anti-minority Bias.

The most important take away for me, however, was that for Americans, the right to make fun of people’s convictions was as important as having those convictions. And that the media believed that derisive/satirical humor was a great way to deal with public displays of religion..

Free speech, religion and secularism have been in the public debate in India of late. What began as a reaction to the stringent and draconian IT Bill later spilled into the realm of politics and religion with Kapil Sibal’s recent posturing over content that “hurts sentiments”.

We have a very different set of values than the US. We believe in live and let live. If an Indian player makes a public display of his faith, very likely it would be talked about in a respectful way. The commentators would say something like “and here is Tim praying before he begins, and lets hope his prayers are heard because his team needs all the help it can”.  Sure,there would be religious extremists of every kind to condemn it, but for the common Indian, used to seeing religious icons in government offices, public transport and even schools, it would just be something to respect about the person.

But the audibility of extremists is increasing.

One measure by which I make this assertion is observing the successful vilification of the word “secularism”.  This, was achieved/is being achieved by a propaganda techniques called  Name Calling. Repeatedly using a word in a negative context or with a negative connotation leads to devaluation of the word or the idea, makes people wary of it, and can lead to complete destruction of its meaning. Since no propaganda technique is used in isolation, combined with cherry picking data (related to card stacking) about how the congress has mis-used secularism in India ( it has) to garner muslim votes, the very desire for secularism is being challenged and subverted. Which (coincidence? ) is what the Hindu supremacists desire, a return to the “Indian” way of dealing with minorities (of which Subramanian Swamy gave a great explanation of).

If an Indian muslim player were to kneel in prayer, to most of this country it would mean nothing special, it definitely wont get him called names by mainstream media, nor would there be any one of significance speaking of it. There would, however, be muslim preachers who will use this as a message of  fervor,  and many more who would make comments about ” that secular player” doing “secular things”.

Here is the interesting thing,  Not everyone understands or even sees the damage that is intended or the religious prejudice behind the usage. What is most saddening is that many of them have deeply secular values and latch on to this bandwagon because :

  • The power of Assertion (another propaganda technique) keep saying something over and over, it will seem like the truth.
  • They know nothing about Muslims, other than the cherry picked data about violence, oppression etc. Most Indians grow up in areas where people of other faiths are not common. In spite of my having grown up and lived in 4 states in India, i have all of One Muslim friend. the rest are Christians and Hindus. My knowledge of the Muslim world comes from stories handed down in the family (mostly how we are better than “them”), the news papers and now, the internet. A casual glimpse through various sites that talk about Indian muslims will tell you that the majority of information out there is written either by conservative/fundamentalist muslims, or Hindus. The voice of the progressive, secularism loving Muslim is buried under a lot of noise.
  • Desire to be part of the “cool kids” ie. the  bandwagon effect . I‘ve been hearing about a Hindu resurgence for the last 10 years. I have no facts to show if it really is happening, or what it means, but in spite of that, i believe it. In fact, most people do, and once a critical mass of people believe in something, it becomes easier to accept more without evidence and easier to recruit minds.
  • Disgust for Congress’ behavior.  This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It does not take too much digging to realize that right from the beginning, secularism was used first as a protectionist strategy and later as a vote banking technique by the Congress at the center (individual states show a different picture). With the exposing of how deep and wide corruption runs in India, and with the growing discontent with it, everyone who hates the “rule” of Congress is left with little choice.
  • The linking of nationalism with anti-secularism. Religion touting political parties have always also linked nationalism with Hinduism, and so with the expected rise in patriotism (money coming in, lack of progress, increasing corruption etc.), there is an inadvertant clubbing of the secularism-bashing with nationalism.

One thing that contributes to the bowdlerization of Secularism is the way the liberal voices in India handle the conservative ones- with a patronizing, disdainful tone. We think that these “fringe” elements will never have any effect on “intelligent” Indians and that “most Indians” would not believe such crap. perhaps its time we wake up and smell the rotting roses.

The end effect is that instead of developing a moral sense to look for real secularism and promoting it, we are moving into times when a religious alternative to secularism (which, clearly is an evil thing, right?) is being introduced.

So today, if Tim Tebow were a Muslim in India, the majority would cheer him, a small group would beatify him, but here would be more people and louder voices that call him a  sikular Indian   than ever before. These voices continue to rise aided by the concurrent  increase in volume of the muslim fundamentalist, and hastened by government policies that care only about gaming the system for maximum profit.

Is that in itself a bad thing? How did we become a secular nation? Do we have alternatives to western ideas of secularism? What is this secularism anyway and is it any good?

These questions will be part 2. thank you for reading.