Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Few Sane Yet Feeble Voices.

Plagued by years of suspicion and hatred, rela...Image via WikipediaLETTER FROM LONDON: Demons from the past - Irfan Husain 
Whether we like it or not, neither geography nor history can be changed. While both countries have engaged in rewriting the past to suit their respective agendas, the facts cannot be erased. Both Muslims and Hindus have to live together as neighbours, and in India, as citizens

In a tranquil place like St Andrews, there are not many distractions, so I have been reading lots of history and trying to reflect on its lessons. For some time now, I have been interested in the dynamics of Hindu-Muslim relations, and the impact of ancient enmities and grievances on current Indo-Pak relations.

We have forgotten much of our past, but it nonetheless affects our daily lives.

For instance, when we now think of the Afghan city of Kandahar, we equate it with the Taliban. But its original name was Gandhara, and it was a part of the ancient Buddhist civilisation with its capital city in Taxila. Swat, Peshawar and the Kabul Valley were all included in this thriving, peaceful community that had absorbed Mediterranean culture brought to the subcontinent by Alexander, and before him, by Greek mercenaries and traders. {Read on}

The identity crisis of the urban middle classes.

From the banks of river Nile to the sand dunes of Kashgar Prefecture, Muslims were perceived as one people by the poet philosopher Muhammad Iqbal. All other manifestations of a person's identity were deemed irrelevant. The unity in faith (madhab) was considered sufficient to define a people overriding all differences in race, colour, and creed.

In Pakistan, a notion of Pan-Islamism has been percolating throughout the state-sanctioned curriculum delivered to students as young as seven years old. The not-so subtle message portrays the nation state as a failure and offers the notion of Muslim Ummah (one community) as an alternative. The curriculum and public discourse depicted Muslims as one indivisible entity impervious to national, cultural and tribal influences.

As a child growing up under General Zia's martial law, I struggled with the gap between the rhetorical Muslim identity and the geo-political realities that unfolded around me. For instance, I could not understand why the Muslims in East Pakistan separated from the Muslims in West Pakistan after a gory struggle to create a nation state, Bangladesh.  I struggled to comprehend why Iraqi Muslims fought a war with fellow Muslims in Iran or much later why Arab Janjaweed militias committed genocide against the non-Arab tribes of Darfur.  And as of late, why Muslims lined up other Muslims near Quetta, Balochistan, and killed them in cold blood.

The above examples of Muslim-on-Muslim violence raises several questions about religion's ability to define and shape one's identity. If religion were to be the only locus of Muslim identity why were then Muslims killing other Muslims. If Muslims were one people, as Iqbal had suggested, why could they not resolve disputes peacefully. Could it be true that religious homogeneity is not sufficient to deter intra-communal violence? Could there be several other manifestations of one's identity? And can culture, caste, creed, or colour be equally instrumental in shaping one's identity as religion is? {Read on}