Religious Extremism and Democracy

Asghar Ali Engineer

Posted Aug 30, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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by Asghar Ali Engineer

Religious extremism is very negation of religion. The extremists are unable to understand this. There is no religion which encourages hatred, anger and revenge, let alone teaches such destructive doctrines. Yet religious extremism results in all this. Hindu philosophy teaches tolerance and non-violence and treats whole humanity as a family and yet Varun Gandhi, the BJP candidate delivered highly provocative speech saying he will cut the hand which is raised against Hindus. He could be young angry man but what about top BJP leadership? They also did not denounce it and not only that turned down Election Commission request not to give ticket to him to contest election.

The acts of Hindutvawadis in Gujarat and Orissa (Kandhamal anti-Christian violence) was perpetrated as an act of revenge, anger and intolerance of other religious minorities. Hundreds died and thousands became homeless and are still continued to be hated by these extremists without any trace of repentance or guilt. Can it ever be justified by religious teachings?

The Talibans on one hand, and al-Qaida, on the other, keep on killing hundreds of people in the name of Jihad which, they proclaim, is the Islamic doctrine. Al-Qaida and Taliban are reacting to US policies and violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is true but their extremism is more than what US policies warranted. First thing, even if jihad be used in the sense of war (which it is not) it is certainly not an act of revenge but an act of defence.

Both al-Qaida and Taliban have killed thousands of innocent people and are continuing to kill in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. It is even difficult to count how many people have already died in suicide bombing and bomb blasts, most of them not Americans but Muslims. Jihad is supposed to be defensive war and certainly not offensive, much less seeking revenge.

Seeking revenge itself is irreligious act. Qur’an too, like other religions, asks believers to suppress their anger and described as kazim al-ghayz (one who suppresses anger and wants believer to follow Allah Who is Pardoner and Merciful i.e. Ghafur al-Rahim. One who seeks revenge can never be a good human being much less a good Muslim. Yet we see Al-Qaida people and Taliban go on killing innocent people by way of revenge though they have not done any thing. How could it be an Islamic act, let alone jihad?

Even today we see every day bomb blasts take place in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq and innocent people get killed although Obama is trying to re-orient his policies and Bush is no more on the scene. As good Muslims they should have taken resort to dialogue even when Bush was at the helm of affairs failing which they could have resorted to violence with some justification.

But they are using violence recklessly much after Bush is no more and Obama is trying to mend the situation. It is high time they should go for dialogue and do every thing possible to bring about peace in the area, if they have any trace of goodness among them. In fact Al-Qaeda and Taliban are acting not as Muslims but as tribals. They are following tribal traditions of revenge.

Those who resort to extremism create certain myths and refuse to see reality and try to act to prove the myths as reality. For example the Hindutvawadis in India have created powerful myths both about Muslims and Christians and through their acts of rioting, violence and killing, try to prove these myths right. No amount of arguments based on facts would ever convince them.

They have created a myth that all Muslims are terrorists, jihadis and loyal to Pakistan or Arab countries and no argument will convince them to the contrary. They also believe that all Christians convert and they would refuse to believe that Christian population in this country has not increased for decades which would have happened if Christians were converting on mass level as Hindutva propaganda maintains.

All extremists are light years away from reality as reality would destroy all their myths. Now some extremists really believe in these myths and they are mostly foot soldiers. Other extremists deliberately create these myths so that their foot soldiers could be motivated to act according to these myths. Leaders create myths in order to achieve political objectives but foot soldiers act by way of their ‘faith’. They are made to believe they are ‘protecting’ their faith.

Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaida know very well what their objectives are and how to go about it. But all those young people who blow their lives as foot soldiers either believe in the myths created by their leaders or have their own compulsions like poverty, unemployment or fear of their own lives in case they refuse to become suicide bomber. In that case they would die unsung death. But if they blow up their life as suicide bomber their families would be taken care of and also in many cases they believe, they will straight go to paradise and live their eternally with houries.

Also, there are certain economic interests in perpetrating violence by extremists. They can collect huge funds from certain fellow religionists in the name of jihad or for protecting religion. Not only this they start smuggling drugs as Taliban are known to be doing on a big scale (in their case it is CIA which taught them this). Thus extremists, including political extremists too, do not believe in right means for right end.

They believe, on the contrary, wrong means can be used for ‘right end’ (right end according to them but in fact their end itself is vitiated by immorality). Even if it is morally correct act it would be vitiated by wrong means. Drug addiction destroy thousands of families and drug smuggling by Taliban make drugs available to young addicts and make even others drug addict.

Debate about ends and means is very old and there is sharp division between those who justify wrong means for right ends and those who insist on right means for right ends. In my opinion right means are a must for right end. A truly religious person would never accept wrong means for right ends. Gandhiji also decisively rejected theory of wrong means for right ends.

In case of religious extremists even end is wrong so for them use of wrong means can hardly create any problem and once they start using wrong means they develop strong vested interest in that as it brings lot of money and comforts of life. They then create huge establishment with that money and then want to control that establishment. Chief of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, for example, controls huge establishment in Pakistan. They bring money from huge Arab charitable organizations by in all probability lying to them that they will spend that money on madrasas, schools and poor people.

They spend small amount on that and rest of funds are spent on terrorist acts. Most sophisticated weapons are purchased and youth trained to use these weapons. The Hindutvawadis also bring lot of money by way of charity from NRIs and multinationals in the name of helping dalits, tribals and poor and they use that fund for hate campaign. Some secularists in USA collected all relevant data and exposed the Sangh Parivar that they are bringing money from various multi-nationals in USA in the name of helping poor dalits and tirbals and how instead they use that money for hate propaganda against minorities.

Thus these extremists control huge amount of money and would never like to go for peace through dialogue. If they do so they will be robbed of their huge illegal income. They will never let go such golden opportunities. Their interest mainly lies in perpetrating the conflict which they often artificially create though not always.

Taliban and al-Qaida people control huge pile of arms. We know the LTTE had not only automatic guns but also aircrafts, anti-aircraft guns and even naval ships. How could they acquire all these weapons? Of course, through drug smuggling, apart from collecting donations from their supporters. Also, these extremists network with other similar extremist organizations. There were links between ULFA, LTTE and jihadi organizations based in Bangla Desh.

Thus extremism, particularly religious extremism has emerged as a great challenge in the contemporary world. It is also worth noting that religious extremism is billion dollar industry today. The armament industry is also in league with these extremists. How else they would acquire such sophisticated weapons? Though Governments may impose bans on export of weapons but industry as well as extremists find ways to violate the ban and occasionally with the connivance of the government machinery.

Though much energy is spent on condemning terrorism and governments themselves spend huge sums of money on fighting terrorists using weapons form these manufacturers, no one investigates how these extremists have easy excess to these weapons? Thus armament industry benefits both ways by selling arms to terrorist organizations and to the governments who fight them.

Who will expose all these vested interests?


Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai

(Secular Perspective July 1-15, 2009)