Perils of religious chauvinism

Adnan Randhawa

By Adnan Randhawa

World is inhabited by six to seven billion humans today. Although more than a billion people are convinced atheists – mostly living in China and Europe, yet a dominating majority of humanity is associated with four major religions. On the top of the list is Christianity having 2,200 million in its fold followed by Islam with 1,600 million followers. Hinduism is the third largest religion consisting of 1,100 million Hindus and next in line is Buddhism, which holds sway over roughly 550 million people. 

For quite some time now, religious chauvinism is on the rise among the believers of all major religions. Many societies that were traditionally aloof to the rising danger have recently succumbed too. Turkey and Canada are the cases in hand.

Turkey has remained calm on religious front since Ata Turk took over after WWI, but only a few days back it was hit by a suicide attack which devastated left protesters right under the nose of its government seat in the capital with alarming level of death toll. This attack was not the first of its nature. On other side of the globe, in Canada, traditionally considered among the most religiously tolerant countries, anti Muslim rhetoric has emerged as a new dimension of the ongoing electoral campaign for upcoming polls.

From America to Africa and from Europe to Asia, whole continents are sliding down the abyss of religious chauvinism. Donald Trump, front-runner of the Republican Presidential candidates, is loud and clear against Muslims – without bothering to mince words; he is pulling big crowds.  Germany witnessed major protest rallies against Islam in January this year organized by right wing populist movement against “Islamisation of the West” that goes by the name of PEGIDA.

This campaign of PEGIDA spilled over to the streets of London and other cities of UK in the following month with some violent clashes also witnessed. In Holland, Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam political movement is gaining currency and is inspiring other European countries as well. Last month, thousands of people joined anti-migrant protests in three East European capitals after leaders from the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia opposed an EU scheme to fix Syrian Muslim refugees’ quotas. Events at Charlie Hebdo, on the sidelines of insulting documentaries, movies, cartoons, rhetoric and adventurism of people like Terry jones do not augur well for the world peace.

Muslims are peculiar for hitting their own feet when their anger prompted by religious bigotry reaches a limit. Another disturbing feature is that henceforth they are the most violent. Pakistan and Afghanistan were the earliest victims of raised levels of bigotry among Muslims.

Pakistan witnessed religious extremist rising in the form of sectarian terrorism, blasts, suicide attacks, Church arsons, lynching minorities, misusing blasphemy laws, violent mob crimes, assassination of Salman Taseer; which finally culminated to the massacre of children in Army School at Peshawar. Afghanistan is burning in inferno of civil war for more than four decades now, and this protracted civil war has its roots in religious extremism. Post 9/11, religious fanaticism has engulfed major parts of Muslim Africa, Arab world and the whole of Middle East where sectarian terrorism and bloody civil wars are spreading like wild fire.

India hosts third largest religion of the world. It has been hit hard by the religious zealotry of extremist militant Hindu outfits like RSS, WHP, Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat etc. Gone are the days when these organizations worked on the margins of body politic of the largest democracy of the world.

They are now controlling the mainstream narrative of the Indian polity through the BJP. Muslim massacres of 1969 in Gujrat, of 1980 in Muradabad, of 1983 in Neeli, of 1989 in Bhagalpur resulted in accumulative death toll crossing 10,000. After the razing of Babri Mosque, Hidutva movement of the BJP never looked back and went on recording roaring public support with each successive election.

So much so, that a Villain of horrible Muslim genocide of 2002 in Gujrat, Nerendra Modi was rewarded by Hindu electorate with a landslide victory in the last elections. Recently manufactured friction over cow slaughter, in which two Muslims have been lynched so far on a mere suspicion of contributing to consumption of cow meat in two different states is sending tremors of dread among the millions of Muslims.

In Mayanmer, 969 movement targeted Muslims in deadly clashes. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots spilled over to Sri Lanka under the command of Buddh Bala Sena. In 2015, Rohangia Muslims escaping religious oppression by Buddhists on sea boats triggered crisis that gripped the whole world with grief.

All these manifestations of religious chauvinism are posing a danger to the whole humanity.  Chauvinism, of whatever shade, is a ghastly state of mind urging its victims to take extreme measures. Different factors are contributing in the rise of it. One, some people tend to become what may be called as absolutists because of psychological reasons. In their understanding of religion they take certain aspects or commands of religions in absolute terms while ignore all other religious or mundane realities of life.

Two, behavioral disorders giving rise to sense of fear and insecurity or finding causes of one’s failures among others when become a dominating part of a social group’s collective life, it often subscribe to religious chauvinism targeting other religions. Three, in the ever-ongoing struggle for control over power, resources and wealth among social groups, nations and nation states, religious chauvinism is employed as a strategy. In national life, religious groups, political organizations and their leaders often resort to such tactics to maintain or enhance their influence while in international relations religious bigotry is deliberately fanned to achieve national security objectives like in Indo-Pak rivalry.

Last but not the least, world powers also use religious fanaticism to achiever their strategic goals like US did in creating Mujahideen to defeat Soviet Union in Cold War. Even today, fingers are being pointed towards US for covertly supporting ISIS to safeguard its interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that religious chauvinism is touching dangerous levels all over the world, which must be a cause of grave concern for powers that be.  It can only be wished that the world might witness some sanity so as to escape the fate of the doomed scenarios.

* The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad and is also a former diplomat.


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