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Mainstream, VOL LV No 19 New Delhi April 29, 2017

A Curious Commonality Underpining Social, Global Events

Events just don’t happen in vacuum

Sunday 30 April 2017

by M.A. Sofi

As should be gleaned from the (sub)title of this write-up, it is intended to contend that howsoever randomly events may be seen to unfold at different levels of their occurrence in the society at a given point of time, there is an underlying unity (or commonality) of the causes which inform the coming about of these disparate events. To illustrate this point, let us look around and note that right now we are witnessing the unedifying spectacle involving a universal trend in the emergence (resurgence) of the Right-wing streak of thought which is crying itself hoarse for acceptability across countries and nations around the world. Be it in India, Pakistan or in Bangladesh around the sub-continent, or the vast swathes of the Middle East, or more recently the emergence of this culture in America post the electoral victory of Donald Trump, there is an unmistakable ‘simultaneity’ of these events happening across the world that are marked by an inexplicable undercurrent of xenophobia sweeping large sections of these societies.

Closer home, one is witness to this massive, phenomenal victory of the BJP following a carefully orchestrated and subtly executed polarising campaign at the hustings in the recent elections, including in the Indian State of UP which has now been handed over to a cabal of poster-boys of the Sangh Pariwar being headed by Yogi Adityinath who has all along been unsparing in his extreme revulsion and visceral hatred of a particular religious community.

All this is redolent of a pattern that is universal, all-pervasive and of which Trump and Modi come across merely as siblings separated at birth. It is indeed surprising, sometimes even baffling, how the act of someone espousing a certain worldview and coming to occupy the highest seat of political power gives rise to that same worldview being not only endorsed but followed as the dominant narrative with diehard allegiance by large sections of the society which he lords over as the man at the top. Whether it was Mussolini’s Italy, Stalin’s Soviet Russia or Hitler’s Germany, the state-endorsed weltanschauung had in due course found unmistakable resonance among the masses.

This applies as much to America now as it does to India where the climate of intolerance, which was alien to these societies not long ago, is being accepted—and even practised—as a new normal.

On the other hand, at a time when America was being looked upon as a paragon of freedom

of expression, individual rights and civil liberty, India was not far behind in terms of its secular credentials and a liberal democracy where plurality of perspectives was not only accepted but even celebrated as intrinsic to its national ethos. On the same analogy, the openness with which European societies would throw open their borders to refugees coming from countries which were in a state of political uncertainty is now being matched by a stubborn refusal by these same countries to provide assistance and asylum to them for reasons which are specious at best.

Of a piece with this contemporary culture of xenophobia, we have this recent phenomenon of Brexit matched by the new found zeal of the American Administration which is aimed at drastically limiting the number of immigrants to that country. Thus the culture of plurality of yore is sought to give way to a climate of isolationism which is now reverberating through the length and breadth of the globe.

Let me hasten to add that this is not to say that the conditions as they prevailed at that point of its history were immune to fissiparous tendencies involving denial of justice to or discrimination against certain groups or communities. The point is that at that point in time, there was no such thing as state-sponsored acceptance of such tendencies which, on the contrary, are now being aided and abetted and wherever possible, promoted by the powers that be, leading in its wake, to a culture of intolerance that has come to be accepted as a new ‘normal’ in these societies.

The story doesn’t end there! The so called Arab Spring brings to mind the simultaneous uprising against the ruling regimes in most parts of the Arab world which was to be followed by simultaneous breakout of chaos and anarchy in many parts of that region, bringing in its wake untold misery, suffering and death to hundreds of thousands of those living in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Egypt. Whether it is peace or violence, openness or paranoia, liberty or subjugation, there is in witness a streak of ubiquity underlying their occurrences.

How does one make sense of the ubiquity of this phenomenon! To this end, we need to understand that ‘there is a surreal method in this madness’! There is, to be sure, an inviolable law of nature as it plays itself out across civilisations and societies where there is at display an inexplicable sort of ‘synchronisation’ of events at various levels as they come about over a given period of history. It should help to illustrate this in the light of certain developments in human history —whether at the material, political or at the intellectual level—which had happened together at some point of time but which had a certain ‘subliminal subtext’ that was common at least to most of these developments.

At the intellectual plane, this phenomenon of synchronisation comes across in certain specta-cular developments that had occurred during the first quarter of the 20th century, including especially the birth of quantum physics in Europe, the axiomatisation of mathematics by David Hilbert together with the building architecture in Germany and many other currents of thought including in art and music. The common link across all these developments involved the ubiquitous desire to reduce the entire superstructure of the above mentioned currents of thought to their fundamental, ‘basic’ components. In other words, these developments which had occurred completely independently of each other and occasioned by circumstances which were unique to the geographical location of those developments had, as if by a miracle, this common underlying feature of being conceived on what are commonly labelled as ‘minimalist’ lines.

There is though another side of the story which should not be lost sight of in an effort to understand this issue in all its aspects. At a time when vast sections of the Hindu community come across as intolerant in much the same way as Muslims are generally perceived across countries and continents, there is at display an attitude that bespeaks a certain regressive mindset which finds expression in their collective behaviour as a social/political entity. In the case of Muslims, it has to be located in the ‘commonality’ of their approach in different domains of their experience. Whether it is the supremacist view of their religion, absence of critical thought, attitude towards education, diehard allegiance to word rather than the spirit and an almost ubiquitous sense of other religious faiths being of a lesser ‘pedigree’, all these manifestations of their collective behaviour are rooted in the ‘common’ affliction which is rooted in ‘ignorance, intellectual stupor and ennui’.

The point is that these are the same afflictions which are already beginning to find expression in the thinking and conduct of a vast majority of Hindus both in India and elsewhere. And these are arguably the same conditions that had plagued the Christians during an era when they had shown the same amount of intolerance and even contempt towards people of other religious faiths. It is also a fact that much though this condescending attitude towards other religions may appear to be more pronounced within the Muslim community, those owing fealty to other religious faiths have not remained immune from this malaise either, as we are witnessing today across vast swathes of India and elsewhere. An unpleasant and highly toxic outcome of this approach, however, has been for one religious community to pit itself against the other, even as what is needed now more than ever is to accord a degree of general validity to each individual manifestation of ecumenical fervor in the interest of peace, mutual respect and co-existence.

The upshot of what has been said in the above lines is that the events happening over a given period of time in history just don’t happen at random or in vacuum but are informed by the zeitgeist—the spirit and the dominant streak of thought prevailing at the time of these ‘simulta-neous’ but disparate historical developments. The regressive attitude of Muslims over a long period of their history extending over the past one thousand years and of Hindus now and that of Christians back during the dark ages—or equally pertinently the enlightened approach to life of vast sections of Christians in contemporary times and of Muslims during their golden era—ought to be explained in the light of the dominant narrative that had defined the collective ethos of the society then as it defines it now.

Prof M.A. Sofi is an Emeritus Professor, Department of Mathematics, Kashmir University, Srinagar. He can be contacted at e-mail: aminsofi[at]gmail.com

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