I imagine that everybody understands intuitively how complicated it is to make generalizations on any country, any race, any gender, any religion. It is the same for one’s opinion on whether the modern world is better or things were better before, is science a good or a bad thing, is abortion a good or a bad thing, is Islam an intrinsically evil religion, are religions intrinsically evil, will atheism be nihilism and the end of the world. In the heart of hearts we are not sure, but we must, as ineluctably as time flows, be moved by the events of the world and want for things to change, for it is upto us to construct the future. As Pessoa said if we were perfectly lucid, we would stop completely. The man of action is not to be stopped with too much thinking, but moved along by just enough of it, and indeed men of action are men of opinions, and opinions are for the most part not distillations of long thought and study, but there must be some part of that, and some part of collective conviction.
I sat down for long hours with my mother and grandmother, on their visit to Nice this december. A year and a half away from home, and a little older, I wished to deepen my understanding of them, and therefore of myself. I learned that my grandmother’s father spoke persian, and he would read and write in this language. This grandmother of mine is no longer connected to her village in Punjab, the way she was as a 7 year old, today living in the westernised neighbourhoods in the south of Delhi, she no longer feels an attachement to the Punjab she grew up in. Her grandson was never connected in the first place, indeed I converse with my grandmother in English. I remember a cousin of mine mocking me as en eight year old, that I must refer to my grandmother as “Grandmother”, (I don’t, I call her “nani”) although I struggle to see how living in Australia now, this friend is any more Indian than me. She belongs to the privileged schizophrenic social class in urban india. Schizophrenic because it believes in an indianness, but only as a surface covering essentially a liberal western agenda.
I spoke to them on a range of issues, on politics, on religion, on the indian identity, subjects I will undoubtedly explore further as I grow older, and for this blog. I have never cared for the politics of my country, and there is a reason for it, I didn’t need to, I grew up in a privileged household, going to a school that would invite western universities by the dozens, that would invite us to go study there (as indeed my cousin must have done, or some such thing). She doesn’t care, nor do I, for the most part, for the government, so long as it doesn’t interfere in our life projects. I am ofcourse not entirely unaware of what is going on (India is so large, there is so much going on), we spoke of the possible election of Sonia Gandhi in 2004, it seemed that they were wrong in thinking (a little googling might clarify the situation) that she couldn’t have become prime minister, I was left a little puzzled at how such a simple fact could be unclear.
We also discussed religion. They know little, as do I, as infact does any normal person does of religion. When I say “knowing” a religion, I am not speaking ofcourse of the spiritual connection that can be attained, the sense of purpose of life, the belief, simply put, they have. They both have that in great, and powerful quantities, it has been the force of their life, I am sure, it is what allows them to accept suffering, death of near dear ones, to have fortitude and to accept their own death one day, as we all must. Technology, individualism, and science separates the human being from nature, from his body, by making him live as a mind, his body becomes a mere tool, sex becomes solely about orgasm, and not procreation, we are no longer a family, or a people, we are individuals trying to “realise” ourself, separated from our death, unable to accept it, and eventually with transhumanism it separates the human from himself completely. If life can be simulated, then nobody shall die, and indeed nobody shall live. But religion, and those who are religious, take things one step further than the scientist who contents himself with doubting things, religion doubts doubt itself. This is the power that my grandmother and mother have, it is a belief, that Google and modern medicine shall never have.
Coming back, the great religions of the world were lightly wafted into the discussion, one by one, there seemed to be, for my aunt, mother, and indeed, most certainly for my father, a conviction that Islam is the least evolved of religions. What were the arguments? let us hear them. To be sure, there cannot be too many, this is a vague mixture of ideas, that can only come from finitely many places. Nobody would say (only a fool would), that there aren’t good muslims, or that Islam hasn’t contributed to Indian culture, that the Taj Mahal isn’t a fanstastic piece of work of art, but (and here are the pieces of evidence) look at the state of women in muslim countries in the world, look at the human rights violations there, and after all take Muhammad, what can you expect from a religion which began with a warlord, look at what is said in the Coran (about this and that, none of them ofcourse have read the Coran, why would they? Nor have they read the Bible). Christianity must be better off, it has engendered the west which despite everything, defines what development is today, human rights, equality, democracy,…. And take Jesus, what a fine fellow he was, that is the stuff of what evolved religions are made of. My mother then showed me a video of how the muslim population is taking over the western population, that immigrant children are “breeding” in large numbers, and that the civilised world, of which we are orbiting bits, could be shaken to the core.
I am atleast as ignorant as my mother on religions, and determined to slowly educate myself, I invested in a book called Decadence by Michel Onfray in the local FNAC store at Nice, where he explained to me that it seemed clear that in all probability Jesus is a purely allegorical, mythical creature, the fact that he is a white man is a clear indication that he was more a refleciton of those painting him than himself (I remember with delicious annoyance the arrogant, self-assurance of this reporter on american television unflinchingly asserting that Jesus was incontestably white, I think she was Megyn Kelly on Fox news), about how saint Paul pushed his christianity through, how fortuitously Constantine’s victory allowed Christinaity to take off, and how pope Urbain 2 pushed the crusades down the the throat of the muslims in a way that would have certainly impressed Muhammad. Among the platitudes we hear on religion “There are bad people in all religion”, one hardly expects the pope to be “bad” (ofcourse what is bad in spreading a religion, or a liberal democratic agenda?) Does this mean I think ill of christianity, no ofcourse not, who am I to judge what would have happened to the west without the sermon on the mount, I simply don’t allow myself generalizations so easily, and in view of this piece of information, I simply cannot give extra points to Christianity, and I have barely scratched the surface!
Lets not forget hinduism. Again there is much reading to be done, what is this hinduism that my mother, and family feel an attachment to, is it just a western liberal ideology in a garb of chants and rituals? How old is this hinduism? How unifying is it? Who believes what and why? Ars longa Vita Brevis. She believed in a kind of indianness, an intrinsic, essential “india” that was able to assimilate so many cultures in it so well. The Parsees fleeing the muslims in arabia, the mughals who decided to stay in this wonderful country of ours. I retorted saying that it was Akbar that spoke of Din-e-ilahi, of a religion unifying hinduism and islam, she responded by saying that he must have imbibed an indianness. Ofcourse the line between indian and hindu blurred in the discussion. The muslims are essentially foriegn for her, it is our indianhinduness that has allowed for our democracy to function relatively well, in her opinion. But was their an India before 1947? These are powerful, far reaching and interesting claims, but also vague claims. She then attributes the failure of Pakistan to its association with Islam. Isn’t it because we are a secular democracy that things worked?, had we been a hindu state, wouldn’t have things been equally bad for us? People’ opinions are fascinating, but that is all people have.
For she doesn’t really know the history of hinduism (and nor do I for that matter), this is what allows for Sri Sri Ravishankar to work so well, he is filling a real need, to bring his brand of “liberal” hinduism to the 21st century, and there is probably a need for reconiciliation to be done. The long list of thinkers of the muslim world, the flow of thought, the genesis of different kinds of thought, the political and economic forces that ensured certain kinds of thought to succeed above others. All this requires a lot of work to do. Who has the time?
Coming back to my dear american friends, I can only imagine that most americans (including Megan Kelly), like most people, are ignorant of their religions and history the way me and most people are, learning about history demands time and energy, and a long education that hardly anybody is interested in or has the time for (except those who are being paid for it). But history is made of people, it is made of what these “ignorant” people decide to do, decide to care about, decide to feel an attachement to, decide to be excited about. It would require long debate to see whether the 93 percent the americans have spent in their history fighting wars were “really” necessary. Whether Osama bin laden was a martyr, a résistant, or a terrorist is a matter of how history books are written. American children are taught the french revolution (which ofcourse involves killing and brutality). How necessary were the acts of america in the years leading upto 9/11, were the actions of Osama bin laden those of a résistant, is ISIL a résistace movement? (what’s in a name?) You see it doesn’t matter to the american, nor does it matter to my mother, because there is no discussing with these “Islamic people”, these barbarians (never mind if my grandmother’s father probably knew of Omar khayyam, the iranian poet, “indifferent to belief and doubt”, I wonder what his thoughts on Islam were..in the 11th century. ) Never mind if the americans killed millions of people to avenge the death of 3000 (9/11 twin towers) (having already caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people before that, which is probably what led to this résistance and/or terrorism, one would think reason enough..). It also doesn’t matter that this modern world of the “lumières” also engendered the horrors of the second world war, costing more lives than any crusade. No, we in india are sold by the western liberal agenda, and terribly impressed by the efficiency of german-made cars, to pollute our roads and inflate our egos, till we are sick and buy the fanciest american made medicine, that trillion dollar industry has to offer.
My point here is the need for nuance in the collective consciousness, that america enjoys, for we all have a nuanced view of it, the good and the bad, but some other parts of the world don’t enjoy this nuanced view, but more importantly to construct cultural bridges, and that is a difficult task, for it takes time to get nuance, and there is no money in building cultural bridges, and time is money in our capitalist world. If the americans felt a brotherhood with the middle east, had an understanding of Islamic culture, of its thinkers, of its history, if it educated itself about its culture and vice versa, if there was real cultural interaction, to understand why people think what they think, and what ideas seem better and why, then there is hope for the world, and then maybe it would seem absurd for the average american to go about the wars the way they have. The “arrogant atheist” is probably as ignorant as the “middle eastern bigot”, but they both need to talk to each other. The task is terribly long and boring, but in the long run fascinating and enriching, and it certainly won’t be done in the time of a Youtube video. We must think and construct the “useless” cultural bridges, work towards more virile cultural interaction, and not the “multicultural” nonsense smacked on the side of a Macdonalds burger (English I’m lovin’ it Spanish: Me encanta; French: C’est tout ce que j’aime; German: Ich liebe es; Swahili: Ninaipenda; Russian: вот что я люблю; Turkish: işte bunu seviyorum.)
The iranian and the american engineer must discuss more than just the right code for the project they are working for google together, they must discuss their humanities, and construct a common one, or learn to appreciate a real difference, and who knows, at the end of it, they might both feel that constructing that code for Google, isn’t such a good idea