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Perils of religious chauvinism

The majority of humanity is associated with four major religions. On top of the list is Christianity with 2,200 million in its fold followed by Islam with 1,600 million followers. Hinduism is the third largest religion consisting of 1,100 million Hindus and next in line is Buddhism, which holds sway over roughly 550 million people.

For quite some time now, religious chauvinism has been on the rise among believers of all major religions. Societies that were traditionally not vulnerable to this rising danger have recently succumbed too – like Turkey and Canada are. Turkey has been calm on the religious front since Ataturk took over after WWI, but only a few days back it was hit by a suicide attack which devastated left-wing protesters. On the other side of the globe, in Canada, traditionally considered among the most religiously tolerant countries, anti-Muslim rhetoric has emerged as a new dimension of the ongoing electoral campaign for upcoming polls.

From America to Africa and Europe to Asia, whole continents are sliding down the abyss of religious chauvinism. Donald Trump, front-runner among the Republican presidential candidates, is loud and clear against Muslims – and he is pulling big crowds. Germany witnessed major protest rallies against Islam in January this year organised by a right-wing populist movement that goes by the name of PEGIDA. The PEGIDA campaign spilled over to the streets of London and other cities of the UK with some violent clashes also witnessed.

In Holland, Geert Wilder’s anti-Islam political movement is gaining currency and is inspiring other European countries as well. Last month, thousands of people joined anti-migrant protests in three East European capitals after leaders from the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia opposed an EU scheme to fix quotas for Syrian refugees. Offensive documentaries, movies, cartoons, rhetoric and adventurism of people like Terry Jones do not augur well for the world peace.

Pakistan and Afghanistan were the earliest victims of raised levels of bigotry among Muslims. Pakistan witnessed religious extremist rising in the form of sectarian terrorism, blasts, suicide attacks, church arsons, attacks on minorities, misuse of blasphemy laws, violent mob crimes, the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, and finally the massacre of children at the Army Public School at Peshawar.

Afghanistan has been burning in the inferno of a civil war for more than four decades now; this protracted civil war has its roots in religious extremism. Post 9/11, religious fanaticism has engulfed major parts of Muslim Africa, the Arab world and the whole of the Middle East where sectarian terrorism and violent civil wars are spreading like wild fire.

India has recently been hit hard by the religious zealotry of extremist militant Hindu outfits like the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat etc. Gone are the days when these organisations worked on the fringes. They are now controlling the mainstream narrative of Indian polity through the BJP. The massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 1969, Muradabad in 1980, Neeli in 1983, and Bhagalpur in 1989 resulted in the death toll crossing 10,000.

After the razing of Babri Masjid, the Hindutva movement of the BJP never looked back and went on to record roaring public support with each successive election. So much so that Modi who was involved in the terrible Muslim genocide of 2002 in Gujarat was rewarded with a landslide victory in the last elections. The recently manufactured friction over cow slaughter, in which two Muslims have been lynched so far on mere suspicion of contributing to consumption of cow meat in two different states, is sending tremors of dread among the millions of Muslims living in India.

In Myanmar, the 969 movement targeted Muslims in deadly clashes. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots spilled over to Sri Lanka under the command of Bodu Bala Sena. In 2015, Rohingya Muslims – escaping religious oppression by Buddhists on sea boats – triggered a crisis that gripped the whole world with grief.

All these manifestations of religious chauvinism pose a danger to the whole humanity. Different factors are contributing to this recent rise of chauvinism. One, some people tend to become what may be called ‘absolutists’ because of psychological reasons. In their understanding of religion they take certain aspects or commands of religions in absolute terms while ignore all other religious or mundane realities of life. Two, in the ever-ongoing struggle for control over power, resources and wealth among social groups, nations and nation states, religious chauvinism is employed as a strategy.

In national life, religious groups, political organisations and their leaders often resort to such tactics to maintain or enhance their influence while in international relations religious bigotry is deliberately fanned to achieve national security objectives – as is done in Indo-Pak relations.

Last but not the least, world powers also use religious fanaticism to achieve their strategic goals – like the US did in creating mujahideen to defeat the Soviet Union during the cold war. Even today, fingers are being pointed towards the US for covertly supporting Isis to safeguard its interests in the Middle East and beyond.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that religious chauvinism is touching dangerous levels all over the world, a cause for grave concern for the powers that be. What is needed is some sanity around the world; otherwise the future seems doomed.

The writer is a lawyer, and former diplomat based in Islamabad. Email:aiddi11@gmail.com

Adnan Randhawa, "Perils of religious chauvinism," The News. 2015-10-20.
Keywords: Social sciences , Christianity , Islam , Hinduism , Buddhism , Terrorism , Religious chauvinism , Syrian refugees , Donald Trump , Terry Jones , Babri Masjid , Canada , Turkey , Holland , PEGIDA , UK , 1960 , 1980