Even before the blood of the 130 children has dried, the entire editorial team of a satirical magazine at Paris has been slaughtered. It is easy to blame a particular religion and score brownie points. However the real issue here is much deeper than the fanaticism of one religion. The real problem is not the supposed intolerance of one religion. Intolerance is used here as a weapon of aggression. It may be surprising but many religious minded people in the Western world do not indulge in such violent retaliation at the ‘hurting’ of their religious beliefs not because of want of will as it is because of the want of power.
By 2012 there had been anti-blasphemy laws in six of the forty five European nations. According to the Pew Research Center in the United States, 11 out of 35 states (31%) had blasphemy laws. In the Bahamas, for example, the publication or sale of blasphemous material can be punished with up to two years imprisonment. The 2012 survey shows several U.S. states – including Massachusetts and Michigan – still had anti-blasphemy laws on the books. But these anti-blasphemy laws are clearly meant for the blasphemy against Christian deity but not against the continuous demonization of the local spiritual traditions. The saving grace against the anti-blasphemy laws is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which can prevent the enforcement of any such law.
But what we see in the Western world is the progressive dilution of the mindset against blasphemy just as we see in the Islamic world a progressive hardening of the mindset against blasphemy.
The reason is that from the onset of colonialism to the modern times political Islam has been nurtured by various forces – from British colonialism, to Gandhian national movement to Soviet-US cold war maneuvers. German Nazism also coopted the Islamic militancy because the latter had a strong hatred towards the Jews. Churchill openly sided with Islamic political forces in India and expressed his hatred for Hindus.
The Hindu approach to the aggressive onslaught of Islam has been varied and multi-dimensional. The accommodative all-embracing songs of Kabir and the unbreakable steel of the sword of Khalsa are two sides of the same coin. By the nineteenth century India has produced a veritable school of Indic Islam with its roots nourished by Indian Vedanta. Ibrahim Razkhan sang verses about the beautiful form of Lord Krishna. Even in the twentieth century venerable Bismillah Khan openly declared that he had the Darshan of Sri Krishna. One can imagine what kind of fate Raskhan and Bismillakhan would have suffered in even a modern theocratic state like Malaysia.
Ultimately the violence and barbarism of the religious come from the closed worldview and fanaticism. Kendra founder Eknath Ranade used to point out with his characteristic humour the fallacy of fanaticism:
Fanaticism is intolerance of others views. We must clearly understand the view-point of others also. Liberality in outlook is essential. … People are fanatic about their own village or about vegetarianism and about so many things in the world. A certain pleader always insisted and tried to convince the people that his village was the hub of the earth. Somebody declared and started propaganda that to drink cow’s milk was sin. Fanaticism existed about yoga and about meditation and what not. To yield to some good points of others is not bad. Staunch attitude about anything is not always beneficial.
It is very easy to find out that it is silly and downright foolish to call one’s own village as the hub of the universe. But it is equally silly and foolish when someone claims that his only holy book or only prophet or only begotten son of God is the only way to the salvation of all humanity. Yet fanaticism has always been attractive to the proselytizing religions. The reason is not far to seek. Swami Vivekananda points out:
Through fanaticism and bigotry a religion can be propagated very quickly, no doubt, but the preaching of that religion is firm-based on solid ground, which gives everyone liberty to his opinions and thus uplifts him to a higher path, though this process is slow
But we need to get rid of this evil by getting to the root of it. More than a century has passed since Swami Vivekananda made that moving appeal to the world community to renounce fanaticism and violence:
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
We can only hope that with what has happened at Peshawar and Paris the world realizes the wisdom of Swami Vivekananda’s words and make his appeal happen.