April 23, 2018

KANKANHALLI | On Religious Warfare

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Asifa Bano bore witness to the utmost depths of human cruelty in only her eight years of life. She died at the metaphorical intersection of Hinduism and Islam in Jammu and Kashmir, a dispute-ridden territory contested by India and Pakistan for ages. Bano’s birth into a nomadic Muslim community sealed her fate tighter than any inherited characteristic ever should. Her title was compelling enough to invite gang-rape, beating and strangulation from Hindu occupants of Kashmir. No apology is enough.

Bano is not the sole collateral damage of religious conflict. There have been many before her, and although her death is painfully fresh, there have doubtlessly been many since. The injustices of Bano’s brutal killing exceed the scope of any one discussion, but the motive is central. The command that religion exerts over its followers is truly remarkable. Quickly and easily, steadfast faith caters to admiration when it links itself to miracles. With less grandeur, on a regular basis, the majority of those who practice religion to any degree could attest to its restorative benefits — a belief in higher beings is reassuring, sustaining, motivating and so on. Philosophy on the subject proposes that religion is meant to ease the burden of daily consciousness, to usher individuals and societies into optimal zones of morality. Ultimately, both on days I’m cocooned in religion or grazing on spirituality, I perceive the enterprise as a personal one — never grounds for social dissection.

The flipside of the whole truly remarkable steadfast faith claim is that religion can also function like blinders — the red-hot, charging-bull kind. That’s remarkable in its own right — the process by which individuals unwittingly surrender agency, volition and good sense to the abstract, swiftly creating monsters out of themselves. Interpretations of religion that rely on contortions of unity and preservation are counterintuitive in every sense. It’s unbelievable, irreversible, but most of all, it’s common.

Still, it’s unfair, from the comfort of my own circumstance, to simply label the communities that grapple with heterogeneity as backwards and deem them hopeless. Tradition and custom are incredibly binding forces, after all. It’s useless, from a place both mentally and physically distant, to preach understanding and empathy — or, at the very least, civility. Often, even for the most progressive societies, it is tempting to operate within the confines of similarity. It’s silly, being no stranger to history, to insist that decency will somehow prevail. There is an astounding number of counterexamples. So, did Asifa Bano die in vain?

Many of us are fortunate enough never to confront disparities of such magnitude throughout our own lives. If we do, then there is a fair chance we may reason with stable audiences, capable to some extent of compromising with their partialities. Still, many of us are not so fortunate. Interreligious, interracial, intercultural relationships no longer seem groundbreaking, but in many parts of the world, they are groundbreaking — with the power to erase the humanity in the observer and the doer. As difficult as it is to extrapolate from a safer space, as inaccurate as it may be to infer, it is crucial to repeatedly extend objections and sensitivities wherever permissible. If not, there might be no compassion left.

I consider myself a sane and rational individual (minus the occasional, humorous lapse in judgement), so for me to align myself with a politician, a religion, a culture or an opinion is hardly a noteworthy event. For me to maintain objectivity surrounding personal belief systems is absolutely ordinary. So ordinary, in fact, that I often assume that the same must hold for every other individual.

I forget that not every other individual is sane and rational, though, and some even exhaust the cursed trinity with their apathy. Intolerance of diversity, while significantly diminished today as compared to dated times, nevertheless persists in equally gruesome ways. Legal frameworks are aware of the problem — perhaps even alert — but their efforts are punitive by nature, not preventative. For prevention, we appeal to logic and sensibility. Yet, logic and sensibility have always been inept at wrestling with faith and belief, and therein lies the issue that permanently refuses to be settled.