Debate on religious terror in DNA
August 4, 2010
A version of the following appeared in DN&A on Aug 4th as a debate between one Ram Puniyani and me at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/04082010/3main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf as a follow-up to my column of the previous week on the alleged “Hindu terrorism”, an oxymoron (click here)
Here is my side, as originally written. DNA edited it to some extent:
Ram Punyani’s assertions are a textbook example of the classical “charvita charvanam” – literally, chewing the cud, or metaphorically, “truth by repeated assertion”. Apparently “progressives” in India are incapable of a single original thought or insight – they specialize in recycling bromides of vintage circa 1950, courtesy the London School of Economics.
The fact is there is a history of Semitic/Abrahamic faiths all of which accept the dichotomy between Good and Evil. They are paleo-Semitic: Zoroastrianism and Judaism; meso-Semitic: Christianity and Islam; and alas, neo-Semitic: Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and various violent, nasty little quasi-religions. You know what they are in India.
There is a vast gulf between Indic religions and these religions of the desert. The former are fundamentally accepting of diversity, while the latter declare their allegiance to a “jealous god”. Communism falls squarely into that category – after all, like in the Crusades and Jihad, Communism too has sacrificed a hundred million people to its own jealous god. Just look at Cambodia for an example.
Communism, stripped of propaganda, is identical in structure to the Christian church. It too has its traditional church – the Soviet one (although sadly eclipsed now) and the Protestants (the Chinese church). It has its schism, its scriptures (Marx’s and Mao’s works); its martyrs (Che Guevara), its missionaries (all those comrades), its blind faith in dogmas with little basis in reality (“the state shall wither away”).
Besides, whenever a new religion is created, it does not consider itself a religion, merely “the way”, just as Communism does. But it has to differentiate itself from all incumbent religions for marketing purposes. Thus Christianity’s differentiation from the existing pagan religions – “thou shalt not worship graven images”.
When Communism was invented, the only differentiation left was to say “there is no god”. So they did say exactly that. However, it is interesting that new religions generally violate their own dicta – thus Christianity treats the bible and the cross as sacrosanct idols; similarly, Communists invented a jealous, vicious little god called “Dialectical Materialism” or “Historical Imperative”.
Furthermore, Punyani’s claim that the various shades of Communism are vastly different is laughable – they are all intent on seizing political power, and their differences are either over personalities or about hair-splitting theological arguments, like medieval Christian monks argued about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin. Punyani’s understanding of Communism is either naïve or meant to obfuscate.
Punyani segues cleverly into the Moral Equivalence tap-dance favored by India’s “progressives” – claiming crusades, jihad and dharma-yuddha are the same. Not true. The concept of “just war” inheres in all cultures, and is religion-agnostic. In the case of Hinduism, it was never used as an excuse to attack those of other religions.
India’s “eminent historians” keep claiming that there are innumerable instances of Hindu kings fighting religious wars against Buddhists and Jains. However, when pressed by Arun Shourie for actual evidence, they were only able to come up with two examples, after much huffing and puffing. One, Pushyamitra Sunga, whom Punyani dutifully trots out. The other was a Kashmiri king. Well, it turns out that the Kashmiri was influenced by Muslim generals into looting both Buddhist and Hindu shrines.
Some researchers believe that Pushyamitra Sunga attacked Buddhist shrines. But consider this: here is the lone example of a Hindu king, in 5,000 years of Hinduism, having attacked a rival for religious reasons. Did someone say something about the exception that proves the rule?
Puniyani’s grand finale is the blanket assertion that all religions support terrorism, and therefore there is no such thing as religious terrorism. Pretzel logic, and wrong again. Hinduism does not support religious terrorism: here is nothing in Hindu scripture that asks its followers to indulge in holy war. Even the much-maligned caste system has no scriptural authority, only the support of a dyspeptic medieval monk.
But in the case of Christianity, there is the clear edict that “the sons of Shem shall rule over the sons of Ham”. Conveniently, various groups, especially blacks, were declared to be “the sons of Ham” and oppressed. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and various Southern churches in the US used this very idea to justify apartheid and slavery. The Jewish genocide had similar sanction.
Similarly the bits about “killing the idolaters wherever you might find them” in the Koran are well known. No, Punyani, the US media and the CIA did not invent this.
In both cases, there is an explicit injunction in their books to go out and convert all infidels to their faith; this justifies crusades and jihad. There is nothing comparable in Hinduism. Krishna advises Arjuna about the need for war only after all other avenues, samam, danam, bhedam, that is, negotiation, concessions, and attempts and division, have failed. This strikes the impartial observer as rather fair. Appeasement at all costs is a self-defeating proposition.
Punyani valiantly aired many red herrings, clichés (half-baked platitudes like vasudhaiva kutumbakam) and diversionary tactics. This sort of dissimulation is a thriving cottage industry in India.