Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Circle of history

A few days ago, there was an editorial in the French newspaper, Le Monde, that talked about exodus of christians from different countries dominated by Muslims. This editorial started from the news of an attack on a church in Baghdad, during which 50 people had died, most of them women and children, and it lamented the flight of christians from the very places where christianity had started.

About 50% of Iraqi christians have left the country in the last 20 years. According to Samir Khalil Samir, a gesuit priest from Egypt, in the last century, christians in Turkey have gone down from 20% of the population to 0.2% of the population, and globally in middle east, they have reduced from 15% to 6%.

Apart from the on-going conflicts in many countries of this region, the spread of more intolerant forms of Islam have contributed to this decline.

Religion, especially a conservative version of Islam, has become a key factor of conflicts in countries like Sudan and Nigeria. In most of these countries, the conservatives have occupied the centre-stage and speak more loudly, while the space occupied by moderates and liberals seems to have diminished.

There have been similar changes in Pakistan and Bangladesh. I remember reading a discussion among bloggers from Bangladesh, who recognized that Durga Puja celebrations in their countries have become rarer and more problematic as their societies are increasingly dominated by conservatives.

It also made me think of the on-going conflict in Kashmir, and the recent controversy surrounding the speech of Arundhati Roy.

I admire Arundhati Roy and I think that it is important that persons have the freedom to talk about uncomfortable truths, that we would rather forget or not see. In this sense, I share her anguish about the continuing lack of civil liberties in Kashmir, about the military rule that does not need to give any explanation or justify its brutality.

I think that power, that does not need to justify itself against people who have no way to raise up their voices or protest, invariably leads to abuse, repression and brutality. The examples of abuses by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan recently exposed on Wikileaks confirm this. Not just military, even children growing up in institutions in different cultures and religions know this very well, that pious and apparently kind persons governing them can also abuse their power. So it is easy to understand that the more violent components of military get an opportunity to express worst parts of themselves, protected by laws and their power.

However, I am not sure about the idea of "azaadi" in Kashmir if it means that the area will be ruled by more conservative and fundamentalist forces. How do you reconcile the contradiction between two ideals - the ideal of living with liberty and the right to self-determination on one hand; and the right to live in a country where people are free to wear what they want, for women to go to school and work, the issue of human rights as enshrined in universal declaration and that seem impossible in societies dominated by fundamentalists?

I raised this doubt to Dilip D'Souza, who answered that:
The point about freedom yearned for is that you can't second guess what might happen there afterwards. After all, Churchill believed that Britain would turn India over to half-men if they gave us Independence. White South Africa believed Mandela was a terrorist and there'd be widespread black revenge on the whites if they ended apartheid.
I agree with the examples given by Dilip, but it doesn't answer all my doubts. I think that he ignores the issue of religious conservatives holding power. As I understand it, Kashmir valley that is asking for azaadi, is a small place. I don't know if it is bigger or smaller than Bhutan.

I also agree that Kashmir valley needs freedom from the special laws that guarantee impunity to military, Kashmiris need azaadi from the omnipresent "occupying forces", but how do you make sure that they are not taken over by jehaadis and conservatives? How do you make sure that it does not become another Afghanistan or Baluchistan? Or we say, it doesn't matter to us, they asked for it, let them get out of it?

I think sooner or later, history will turn a full circle and more moderate and illuminated ideals of Islam will come back. The middle ages were dominated by fundamentalist christians who launched crusades, conquest of americas and inquisitions, but eventually rennaisance did win and in todays' world, conservative christians do not have that kind of influence or power. Similarly, one day this domination of fundamentalist islam will give way to liberal islam like the ones that continue to flourish in countries like India and Indonesia.

But till the circle of history completes this passage, how do you deal with regimes that restrict their people's lives? Do you just wait and watch? I am quite sure that the Western answers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the right answers, also because they are tainted with self-interest of power, control and resources.

But is there another way, and should others intervene and how?

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