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Augustine Perumalil

Does Religion Promote Violence?


Observing that violence in the name of religion has a long history, the article enquires into the relationship between religion and violence. The enquiry begins with a critical examination of two views of religion-inspired violence which are popular in certain circles – the view that it is in the very nature of religion to generate violence; and that the cause of religious violence is the presence of male pronouns and violent images in religious discourse – and finds them inadequate accounts of religion-inspired violence. The enquiry further looks into the various factors, both internal and external, that make religion violent and comes to the conclusion that there is no purely religious violence. Much of the violence attributed to religion is in fact caused by deeper social, economic and political conflicts arising from the avarice of certain sections of society for dominion, and from a sense (actual or imaginary) of deprivation, injury, injustice and insecurity of the masses. Consequently, the writer argues, any attempt to grapple with violence done in the name of religion will have to first address these aspects of social life and seek a separation of nationhood from religious affiliation, of national ethos from religious identity.



1. The Close Relation between Religion and Violence

»People are sanctioned to kill in defense of country and defense of religion. For some entities, the fight is no longer my form of government against yours. It is my religion and my beliefs against yours.«

Mark Juergensmeyer
(in Shepard 2002)
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1 Starting from the bloodshed in the Bible and the combat of the Crusades to the terrorist attacks on the WTC on September 11, the suicide bombings in the Middle East and the most recent large-scale arson, rape and murder in Gujarat, violence in the name of religion has a long history. But, as Mark Juergensmeyer noted in his book Terror in the Mind of God (2001), since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, there is an increase in the religion-related conflicts. The reason for this increase, according to him, is that with the fall of the USSR fighting in the name of religion has replaced the battles pitting the capitalist West against the communist bloc. The new fights, according to Juergensmeyer, »is no longer my form of government against yours. It is my religion and my beliefs against yours.« (Quoted in Shepard 2002)
2 Citing a large number of such instances of religion-related violence from both the past and the recent history, William Edelen, in an article published on the Internet titled »Religion is the Cause of Violence« (1999), places the responsibility for violence solely at the door of religion and argues that it is in the very nature of religion to produce conflicts and violence. »It is religion,« he writes, »that, historically, has always produced violence. From Moses to the Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Hitler, Kosovo. Today, in our own time, it is those countries without religion that are the least violent.« (Edelen 1999)
3 The above argument, though flawed on account of being simplistic, highlights an intimate relationship between religion and violence. Although it might come as a surprise to many who see in religion a door to the sacred and a path to spiritual growth and human fulfillment, more than half of the terror organizations listed in the 1998 U.S. State Department listing of international terrorist groups were religious in nature (cf. Shepard 2002). It is also worth taking note that the ferocity and intensity of the religion-inspired violence – for example, September 11 attack on the US or the recent violence in Gujarat – surpasses that of violence inspired by purely secular motives such as an agitation for a separate state within a country or a freedom struggle. It is, therefore, not surprising that all over the world, among the scholars, an urgent need is felt for acknowledging and exploring the intimate relation between religion and violence and that after the September 11 attack on WTC many scholars are focusing greater attention on the phenomenon.
4 The statement of the relation between religion and violence is at times marked by denial on the one side and by prejudice and exaggeration on the other. Apologists for religion often regard religion as the carrier of the message of nonviolence, love and peace, and deny that true religion has anything to do with violence. In support of this view, they array such messengers of peace and nonviolence as Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and proffer religious violence as a strictly aberrant behavior. Taking this line, many religious leaders, especially Muslim religious leaders, have argued in the recent past that religious people who use their faith to justify violence are not authentically religious, that Muslims who justify violence are not »real« Muslims (cf. Ingersoll 2001). By contrast, apologists for secularism, intent on indicting religion, hold it responsible for most conflicts and argue that the elimination of religion will assure an era of peace and prosperity (cf. Edelen 1999).
»It is religion that, historically, has always produced violence. From Moses to the Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Hitler, Kosovo. Today, in our own time, it is those countries without religion that are the least violent.«

William Edelen
external linkOnline
5 Needless to say that both these views state truths, but only partial truths. To dismiss the affinity of religion to violence as misguided fundamentalism, as some apologists for religion are inclined to do, is as one sided as to exaggerate it. There is a need to avoid the wishful thinking of the religionists on the one side and the exaggeration of the secularists on the other and subject the affinity of religion to violence to an academic investigation.
6 However, finding and stating the truth about the relation of religion to violence is exceedingly difficult. The difficulty arises chiefly from two reasons. First, since no violence is purely religious in nature, it is difficult to distinguish religious violence from other sorts of violence. It is not easy, for example, to decide whether the conflict in Northern Ireland is a religious one, or whether it is essentially a class and ethnic struggle; whether the recent Balkan wars are ethno-religious or ethno-nationalist conflicts; and whether Zionism is a secular or religious ideology. To overcome this difficulty, it might be useful to speak of religion-inspired violence, rather than religious violence and define it as violence arising primarily from the conflicts in religious beliefs and practices or as conflicts between religious groups as religious groups.
7 Secondly, each instance of violence is so unique that any generalization made on the basis of the study of a few instances is bound to be inapplicable to all instances. Only sociological naivete would prompt us to expect the same set of common factors active behind the eruptions of all instances of religion-inspired violence. For a comprehensive understanding of each instance of religion-inspired violence, therefore, it is mandatory to study each instance in its own context, paying attention to the unique circumstances and forces that contribute to its eruption. Nevertheless, the analysis of different manifestations of religious violence is likely to yield some common features. What follows is an attempt to identify those features common to most, if not all instances of religion-inspired violence.

2. Two Inadequate Views of Religious Violence

8 At the outset it might be useful to consider two views of religious violence which are popular in certain circles but which cannot withstand critical scrutiny. The first of them is the view that it is in the very nature of religion to generate violence; and the second is the view, popular among certain feminists, that the cause of religious violence is the presence of male pronouns and violent images in religious discourse.

2.1 Religion as the Producer of Violence

»Religious differences tend to rationalize and to pump up the intensity of dislikes that might begin with ethnic, economic, or other differences.«

Edward Langerak
(1997, 514)
9 There is a school of thought which establishes a necessarily relation between religion and violence. This view holds that religion per se, especially religion in its monotheistic form, leads necessarily to intolerance, conflicts and violence. It draws empirical support from the fact that most of our history is marked by conflicts and wars resulting from religious differences. Proponents of this view further point to the general human tendency, noticed throughout most of our history, to be suspicious and disdainful of differences, and argue that this tendency is maximal in religion, »since religious differences tend to rationalize and to pump up the intensity of dislikes that might begin with ethnic, economic, or other differences« (Langerak 1997, 514). Such intense dislikes, they claim, are bound, from time to time, to find expression in conflicts, violence and even wars.
10 But, as Langerak shows, religion is – neither in its polytheistic form nor in its monotheistic form – not a natural breeding ground of violence as suggested by some critics of religion. Langerak argues:
11 When humans thought that the gods were local and their concerns provincial, we could pledge allegiance to them without insisting that everyone else do so. Hence polytheism was quite compatible with religious toleration or, just as likely, indifference toward the other's belief. (Ibid.)
12 Thus it is easy for polytheism to be tolerant of the gods of other peoples and we can without much difficulty understand why. However, it might appear that monotheism, since it accepts one and only one God, will naturally yield intolerance and its fruit, violence. This assumption, however, is erroneous, because as Langerak argues, »Even when people thought that their God was the most powerful, even the only true God among many gods and a jealous god at that, they did not require outsiders to agree.« (Ibid.) The Jews, for example, considered Yahweh as the only true God; they were proud that they were Yahweh's chosen people and felt sorry for others who were not given that privilege, but did not require other people to worship Him. Thus, even monotheism with its universal implications can avoid clashing with atheists, or worshippers of other gods.

2.2 Images of Violent Gods and Religious Violence

enlarge Hindu goddess Kali
13 Some feminists hold the view that the male pronouns used in religious discourse, and the violent images used in scripture are the chief contributors of violence. Feminist theology in the West is as uneasy about violent images of female power represented in images of goddesses like Kali, with her girdle of skulls, as they are with the violent images in the Psalms. These feminists believe that if male pronouns used in religious discourse are altered, and violent images are expunged from scripture, especially the Psalms, violent realities will simply ebb. They hope that when there is no more violent gods there will no longer be violent people (cf. Madsen 2001).
14 The reasoning seems to be the same as in cases of television and movie violence. Those who advocate censoring violence from television and movies argue that if people see the characters on the screen doing it, they will want to do it themselves. It is as if representation came first, and then imitation; as if life imitates art, rather than art imitating life; as if stories do not spring from social realities but from malevolent purposes trying to work themselves out as realities; as if there can be no reason apart from malevolence to tell a troubling story. In effect the advocates of censorship would be declaring that because crime and violence ought not to happen, artists must always act as if it did not; that the representation is as illegitimate as the act; that no violent image can ever be presented without colluding in violence. This argument forgets that violent stories are artistic representations of the violence that already exists in society and that violence is prior to the artistic representation of it on the screen, not the acting out in real life what one sees on the screen.
15 In telling a troubling story the advocates of censorship can discern only malicious intentions. This is because we are so accustomed to seeing on the screen and the art galleries destruction and damage without emotional sequelae – not for the sake of understanding, empathy, horror, and shame but for the sake of shallow excitement – that we begin to think that the violence in works of art has no wider purpose than mere titillation. What is lost is a general understanding of what the artist seeks to convey by presenting scenes and images of violence. As Madsen argues, stripped of the attitude of the artist toward the violence he/she represents, and examined in terms of its content alone – supposing the attitude and sensibility of the artist who created the religious image and the Psalmist who composed the psalms to be no part of its content – these images cease to have any importance other than shallow entertainment. Divorced from the emotional subtleties, the violence represented in art and religion may appear as mere erudite posturing, a smokescreen of culture disguising raw titillation, and, as the advocates of censorship claim, they may also inspire the viewers to imitate what they see.
16 But there is a fundamental difference between crime-inspiring images and great works of art. What makes the crucial difference between them is how the artist treats his/her theme, and the effect he/she wants to produce in the viewer and the changes he/she wants to bring about. The artist can make use of images of violence either to entertain and mitigate the horror of violence by glorifying it (thus inspiring violence), or to produce in the viewer a »holy fear,« a sense of shame and horror, leading to the strengthening of noble sentiments, thereby effecting personal conversion. It is the latter that makes stories like Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment a classic. Devoid of this consideration even scriptures like the Bible or the Mahabharata will read like a chronicle of crime and violence. What makes them great literature is the sense of shame about one's sin, the horror of violence and the noble sentiments they produce and foster in the reader.
17 The feminists, who advocate the censoring of religious discourse and religious images, and exorcising from them all male pronouns and violent images, miss this aspect of great art and literature. They can only see in them inspiration for sin and crime; hence they want them censored. This means the feminists are overlooking the most important aspect of scripture, religious images and great works of art – their role in creating the »holy fear of God« and inspiring noble sentiments. The conclusion to be drawn is that there in no causal relationship between violent images in religion and violence in society as the feminists assume. On the contrary, in most cases, the violent images in scripture act as powerful deterrents of sin and violence.

3. Factors that Make Religion Violent

3.1 Certain Beliefs about One's Religious Duty

»The motivation for religious intolerance and violence intensified when monotheism became not just universalistic but also exclusivistic and expansionistic, as it did with Christianity and Islam.«

Edward Langerak
(1997, 515)
18 Neither monotheism nor the images of violence used in religion are in themselves producers of intolerance or violence. What makes religion intolerant and violent, according to Langerak, are certain beliefs about one's religion and religious duties. They include the belief that one has a duty, mandated not just by good-will and compassion but also by a divine decree, to teach to all peoples the one and only way to salvation and to make disciples of all nations by whatever means available. In Langerak's words, »The motivation for religious intolerance and violence intensified when monotheism became not just universalistic but also exclusivistic and expansionistic, as it did with Christianity and Islam.« (Langerak 1997, 515) Langerak proceeds to show how it is exclusivism and expansionism that leads to intolerance:
19 When God revealed to us a universal doctrine and called on us to teach it to all peoples as the exclusive way to eternal salvation, mandating us to make disciples of all nations, then we could not have a laissez faire attitude toward unbelief or apostasy. Why should we allow pernicious error a chance to mislead the gullible into perdition or to sow confusion and disorder? A righteous society, after all, is devoted to what God declares is right rather than to what humans declare as rights. …we must consider primarily the eternal destiny of those in error or, if they are beyond redemption, the souls of those they might corrupt. (Ibid.)
20 So compassion and divine duty enjoin upon us the obligation to bring everyone to accept the true faith by whatever means available. Add to this exclusivism, expansionism and a promise, like the one held out in the Koran, that those who die in their attempt to spread faith or at least make the infidels follow the divine precepts automatically become martyrs of the faith and are awarded a special place in heaven, and we will find an added motivation for religious violence.

3.2 Internal Feuds

21 More than exclusivism and expansionism, what made religion more brutish was internal feuds. Even when exclusivist and expansionistic religions like pre-Vatican Christianity and Islam were trying to convert others and faced resistance, even violence from the »pagans« or »infidels,« they were rather sympathetic to those opponents, since it was held that they resisted true religion, not because of any fault of their own, but because they had no opportunity to know the true doctrine.
22 However, Langerak draws our attention to how, when such exclusivist religions turned religious wars in upon themselves – for example, as Islam did briefly after Mohammed's death in 632, and Christianity did at great length after the Reformation – life became uncertain at best and, at worst, nasty and brutish. Indeed, even those theists who were disposed to be somewhat lenient toward unbelievers often became brutally intolerant toward apostasy.
23 For example, Thomas Aquinas, who was sympathetic toward non-Christians on the ground that they are generally inculpable for their erring ways, shed all pretence of leniency while dealing with apostates, because, as he argued, once one knows the truth, only culpable corruption could motivate rebellion against it. So both Aquinas and Calvin were insistent that no believer could become an apostate or heretic with an inculpable conscience. Needless to say that this view gave rational justification for the intolerance of those who disagreed with their interpretation of important points connected with doctrine and liturgy and for the internal violence that Islam faced after the death of Mohammed and Christianity faced after the Reformation.

3.3 The Scriptural Roots of Violence

enlarge Hindu god Rama
24 Lefebure's recent work, Revelation, the Religions, and Violence (2001), is an exploration of the scriptural roots of violence. Focusing on Christianity and the Bible, Lefebure takes his readers on a quick but enlightening journey through scripture and tradition, asking what beliefs have inspired Christians both in their attitudes and behavior toward other religions and in their use of violence. He takes note that throughout the Bible and the early and medieval church, the image of God is distressingly dual. Throughout the Bible, God is both warrior and nonviolent friend of all. Lefebure takes note that the divine both embraces all peoples and yet destines some to »supersede« others. He concludes that the roots of violence and interreligious animosity can be found in the scripture and tradition of Christianity.
25 Though Lefebure's analysis was focused on Christianity, its conclusions have wider application. The dual nature of the sacred, which lends itself for exploitation by those who want to incite violence, is observable in other religions as well, making it a source of inspiration for the jihadi elements in religion. For example, Krishna, who is both a charioteer and friend, advises, inspires and encourages a dispirited Arjuna to wage war as a sacred duty. Again, for the Hindus the avenging Kali and the serene goddess of wisdom, Sarasvati, are two faces of the divine. The potential of the image of Kali for inciting religion-inspired violence need not be stressed. Further, Rama represents for the Hindus an ideal king who, after a fourteen-year exile in the forest, comes back to establish a kingdom of righteousness. But, because of the dual aspect of his personality (warrior and the personification of human ideals), the Hindutva forces were able to exploit his image for Hindu resurgence and political mobilization by emphasizing his role as warrior.
26 If in most religions it is the image of the sacred that has dual character, in Islam, it is the concept of jihad that assumes ambivalence. The primary meaning of jihad is »spiritual struggle against evil.« Islam recognizes four ways of fulfilling a jihad: by the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword. These refer to the inner, spiritual battle of the heart against vice, passion, and ignorance; spreading the word of Islam with one's tongue; choosing to do good and avoiding evil with one's hand; and waging war against non-Muslims with the sword. Of these four ways, most modern branches of Islam stress the inner, spiritual jihad. But the fundamentalists emphasize the fourth way, insisting that all nations must surrender to Islamic rule, if not its faith. Until that time, all adult, male, and able-bodied Muslims are expected to take part in hostile jihads against non-Muslim neighbors and neighboring lands (cf. Jihad 1999). It is easy to see how, when such ambivalence is exploited by the unscrupulous, religion becomes a source of and inspiration for violence.

4. External Factors that Contribute to Religious Violence

27 One may consider many aspects of the above story debatable. In any case, it is partial and incomplete and in need of being supplemented by further narration such as the story told by John Locke in his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) and by Tambiah in his work Leveling Crowds (1997). The former highlights the role of various social players in the drama of religious violence, whereas the latter focuses on the relationship between globalization and religious violence. To complete the picture, one must also explore and understand the parts played by nationalism; secular, liberal institutions; and individual and collective conscience.

4.1 Locke's Analysis of Religious War

enlarge John Locke
(1632 – 1704)
external linkBiography
28 Locke wrote his Letter when England was going through a difficult time in the aftermath of Restoration and the Glorious Revolution. It was a time of conflicts between the state church (Anglican) and the dissenters. In his Letter, Lock's primary concern was not to identify the forces behind religious violence but to argue that toleration of divergent views and practices is necessary for peace. Though, in an essay written thirty years earlier, An Essay in Defense of the Good Old Cause, Locke had argued against religious toleration because it would lead to civil unrest, in the Letter Locke argued that toleration is necessary for civil peace. In the course of this argument, Locke presents a brief and succinct anatomy of religious conflicts. It is neither religion in itself, nor the diversity of opinions but intolerance of different opinions that causes »bustles and wars«:
29 It is not the diversity of opinions (which cannot be avoided), but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinions (which might have been granted), that has produced all the bustles and wars, that have been in the Christian world upon account of religion. (Locke 1689, 57)
30 A further analysis reveals to Locke the inner dynamics of the »bustles and wars«:
31 The heads and leaders of the church, moved by avarice and insatiable desire of dominion, making use of the immoderate ambition of magistrates, and the credulous superstition of the giddy multitude have incensed and animated them against those that dissent from themselves, by preaching unto them, contrary to the laws of the Gospel and to the precepts of charity, that schismatics and heretics are to be outed of their possessions and destroyed. (Ibid.)
32 Thus along with intolerance, Locke holds the avarice of the domineering religious leaders coupled with the ambition of the secular rulers and the gullibility and the superstition of the masses as the cause of religious violence.
33 Locke's analysis pertained to what was happening in England in the latter part of the seventeenth century, a time when the church leaders had considerable secular power, so that they could make »use of the immoderate ambition of the magistrates« to further their interests. In the secular democratic societies that emerged in the modern period, religious leaders have lost their significance as the chief players in the social drama and politicians have taken their place. Also in modern times the theocratic aristocracy of the middle ages has been replaced with electoral democracy, with its own compulsions. Yet Locke's analysis still retains some of its force, since even in the changed scenario the dynamics of religious violence have remained much the same. With some modifications contingent upon the changes in the socio-political scenario, Locke's analysis could still be applied to our own times, for the role of self-serving leaders, the subservient bureaucrats and the giddy masses in every instance of violence is well documented in various journals that have covered the religious violence in India, especially since the 1990s.
34 Taking these things into consideration we can, for our times, modify, without being far off the mark, Locke's analysis of the dynamics of religion-inspired violence thus: The politicians, moved by avarice and insatiable desire of dominion, keeping in mind electoral dividends and masquerading as religious leaders and patriots, and making use of the immoderate ambition and subservience of the government servants, and the credulous superstition and excitability of the giddy multitude, have incensed and animated them against those that differ from themselves, by preaching unto them, contrary to the real spirit of religion and to the precepts of civility, that the minority communities are to be deprived of their possessions, driven out of their homes and destroyed. Thus the major difference between the religious violence of the seventeenth-century England and today's religious violence, especially that in India, is that the former was the handiwork of the religious leaders, whereas the latter is the contrivance of wily politicians, masquerading as patriots and religious leaders.

4.2 The Role of Nationalism

»There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in the Shaitan and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.«

35 In the dynamics of religion-inspired violence, nationalism plays an important role, for it gives psychological inspiration and rational justification for discrimination. Even Locke, who had advocated tolerance of divergent views for the sake of peace, public order and safety, had advocated the intolerance of Catholics and atheists, because he suspected their loyalty to the nation. He notoriously argued that Catholics and atheists could not be trusted, the former because they pledged allegiance to a foreign prince (the Pope) and the latter because only those who believe in divine reward and punishment have sufficient motive for fidelity. What made Locke intolerant of Catholics and atheists is his blending of religion with matters of State and his failure to extend toleration to those whose loyalty to the country was suspect. Liberal Locke's discriminatory attitude to Catholics and atheists shows how nationalism can serve as an inspiration for and justification of discrimination against religious minorities.
36 It is the same explosive blend of State and religion that makes Islam intolerant and violent. Islam has traditionally taught toleration of other faiths; it has allowed other theists to practice their faith. Islam means »surrender« and the Qur'an states that there can be no compulsion in Islam (2:256). It thereby agrees with Locke, Aquinas and Calvin about the need for inward freedom, although, for reasons similar to those of Aquinas and Calvin, not allowing it for apostates. But the »no compulsion« view, which respected religious diversity and freedom of conscience, coexisted with many forms of discrimination. For, although belief (imam) cannot be coerced, Muslims can use coercion, even holy war (jihad), to subdue unbelievers to a particular polity (cf. Langerak 1997, 516). It is needless to emphasize that the cause of this discrimination is the concern for political unity and the wrong identification of political loyalty with religious affiliation.
37 What is said about Islam is true of Hinduism also. Hinduism, in the absence of a founder, a central teaching authority, and universally acknowledged scriptures and creeds, is defined as a way of life rather than a religion. The greatest quality of the Hindus, as B.R. Sharma rightly points out, »has been their power of liberalism, tolerance, adjustment and assimilation of all cultures whosoever come in contact with their faith and social life« (Chitkara 1997, vii). Hinduism welcomed all social philosophies and faiths and they »flourished in this country without any malice prejudice and discrimination« (ibid.). In fact, »the vast majority of Hindus are satisfied with their rituals and customs and the great land that nourishes them« (Spaeth 2002, 15). The absence of centralization, standardization and expansionism, and the spirit of adjustment, assimilation and syncretism make Hinduism one of the most tolerant of all religions.
38 Yet the recent past has witnessed Hindu fundamentalists unleashing hatred and violence against the minority Muslims and Christians. The justification of this violence can be traced back to the speeches of Golwalkar who identified nationalism with Hinduism. According to Golwalker only the Hindus can and do feel that India is their motherland:
39 In whose heart indeed do we find a feeling of reverence, respect and affection for the motherland? Whose heart quivers with anguish when any injury is inflicted on the motherland? If the answer to this question were to be bodily given, it is plain – the Hindu's. It is the Hindu society which cherishes in its bosom a feeling of deep filial devotion to this land. It is this society which regards every particle of this motherland as sacred, which regards it is religion to worship everything associated with this soil. (Chitkara 1997, 204-205)
Katharina Ceming:
»Hinduismus: Auf dem Weg vom Universalismus zum Fundamentalismus?«
In this issue.
external linkArticle
40 According to Golwalkar, the Parsis are »part and parcel of this nation.« But he refuses to extend this characterization to the Christians and the Muslims because, in his view, they cannot be properly integrated into the national life. To build up an integrated nation, Golwalker introduces the notion of Hindu Rashtra. Golwalker does not demand that the minorities accept Hinduism, but insists that for the minorities to »live in this land with happiness, dignity and self-respect,« the »truth of Hindu Rashtra« will have to be acknowledged (ibid., 210).
41 This sentiment of Golwalker seems to find echo in the pamphlet circulated widely in Ahamadabad city before the recent carnage calling for total economic boycott and destruction of Muslims in India (Pamphlet 2002, 6). It was put out in the name »one true Hindu patriot,« implying that destroying Muslims is an act of patriotism. The point to be noted once again is this: one of the crucial factors that makes a religion intolerant and violent towards other faiths is the wrong identification of political loyalty with religious affiliation, the blending of matters of State with religion.

4.3 The Decline of Liberal, Secular Institutions

42 As J.S. Mill's in his work On Liberty has noted intolerance of differences is natural to humans (Mill 1859, 8). When factors such as deprivation of social privileges, raking of memories of past injuries and prejudices add to the natural intolerance and conflicts, it is the secular, liberal institutions that assuage fears and calm passions with the promise of fair, just and impartial treatment. When these institutions break down, either due to deliberate assault on them, or because society has become so communalized and partisan that there remains no one of consequence to uphold liberal values, even a minor incident like an argument over a cup of tea can lead to a flare-up. This is made amply evident in the recent genocide that took place in Gujarat.
»In all instances, there has been one common factor: for the most part, the Muslim has been the victim, his life, family and livelihood systematically targeted. That even the Dalits, who in the 1980s were victims of a similar hate campaign, have now joined hands with their one-time oppressors only shows how successful the Parivar has been in creating the imagined ›enemy‹.«

Rajdeep Sardesai
external linkOnline
43 Rajdeep Sardesai in a lead article written in The New Indian Express (Sardesai 2002, 6) shows how the communal carnage has not taken place overnight, but is the outcome of a sustained assault on the secular, liberal institutions by the Hindutva forces and the abandonment of those values by society at large. Among the steps the Sangh Parivar adopted to weaken the secular, liberal institutions and to mute the voice of those who stood for those values Sardesai lists the 1998 Gujarat government circular legalizing government employees becoming members of any organization of their choice; promotions or punitive transfers on the basis of loyalty or disloyalty to the cause of Hindutva; ideological indoctrination through rewritten textbooks; the gradual infiltration and eventual take-over of the local and much of the national media; the breaking down of social relations through incitement; rationalizing of violence; denial of state culpability and providing immunity and protection from legal action for the perpetrators of violence (even presenting them as role models); presenting obvious falsehood as official »truth« hoping that when falsehood is repeated a sufficient number of times, it will begin to sound as truth; banning TV channels that covered incidents unpalatable to the administration; uniting disparate and even warring groups on the basis of a »hate minorities for they are dangerous« agenda; intimidation of media-persons who are perceived as upholding secular, liberal values; and maligning the voice of the secularists as the voice of antinationals and »pseudo-secularists.«
44 Among the reasons for the abandonment of the secular, liberal values by society at large Sardesai lists the opportunism and duplicity of politicians, »unconvinced about the need to be secular«; the influential industrialists' reluctance to speak out for fear of consequences; the social activists' silence for fear of antagonizing the mob; the fatigue of the Gandhians for another battle; and in the context of the weakening of moderate voices, the Sangh Parivar's successful attempt to misguide the Gujarati's need to forge a new identity in the context of the globalizing environment to the narrow vision of creating a »Hindu brotherhood« opposed to the common enemy, the Muslims and the Christians.
45 When for reasons such as the above, the liberal, secular institutions decline and the liberal voices become silent, the natural tendency to feel animosity to those who differ from oneself gains the upper hand, and gets fanned by self-serving partisan leaders of the time. A sense of real or imagined injury, frustration arising out of socio-economic deprivation and the absence of faith in the fairness of secular government drives people to abandon the liberal path and follow the insinuation of intolerant communal leaders.

4.4 Silencing of Conscience

46 If the secular liberal institutions provide the external structures needed to check our natural inclination to be intolerant of differences, a conscience that is sensitive to evil and suffering provides the internal mechanism that keeps our violent tendencies at bay. When conscience becomes cloudy or gets altogether silenced, and external structures of social control break down, we are left with no effective deterrents of violence and our natural tendency for intolerance and violence finds free expression.
47 Conscience can easily be silenced or mollified by means such as (a) generating fear and hatred toward others by vilifying them (b) finding justification for one's violent tendencies and actions and (c) glorifying violent behavior as a manifestation of some higher values such as patriotism or love of God. Sardesai notes how in Gujarat all these methods were used well in advance of the pogrom. Long before the carnage at Godhra, the Sangh Parivar had started a campaign centering around Mianbhai as the enemy, labeling them anti-nationals, and dangerous, disloyal criminals. The attack on churches and missionaries were justified as a reaction against conversion, just as the ethnic cleansing that followed the Godhra incident was justified by appealing to the Newtonian law of each action having its reaction and as an emotional outburst of well-bread Hindu boys who have dome something wrong, because this was the result of an outburst (Bhatt 2002, 5). Worse still, when missionaries were gang raped in Jhabua, it was not only justified but even glorified as an act of patriotism. Such campaigns result in the mollifying of conscience and the erosion of finer human sensitivities, leaving us at the mercy of our bestial instincts and in the absence of effective external, liberal, social structures, they tend to tear society apart.

4.5 Globalization and the Search for New Identity

»The answer, for many Muslims across India, has been to cling more tightly to their religious identity. Mosques are starting to overflow, and the new faces are mostly young Muslims.«

Brook Larmer
external linkOnline
48 A recent study by Stanley Tambiah focuses on the relationship between globalization and religious violence. Tambiah's work Leveling Crowds (1996) is a study of the ethnic conflicts that have resulted in collective violence. The bulk of Tambiah's book is a detailed analyses of specific riots in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India. He tries to understand why people riot at particular times and places. He finds these conflicts to be the result of the global spread of capitalism and the ineffective efforts to create nation-states atop ethnically diverse populations. In the globalizing environment people's sense of identity and belonging get blurred, which results in their attempt to seek collective affirmation.
49 Tambiah finds that in South Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere, where conflicts have been intense and wide-spread, ethnic groups are seeking collective affirmation. It is usually a majority group which proposes affirmative action on its behalf. In the context of globalization and the attempts of groups to affirm themselves, various groups come to feel deprived in some way – politically, financially or psychologically. They have the feeling that something is missing from their lives, while others have it. Activists have been »educated or semi-educated youths seeking employment in economies slow in growth and unable to accommodate them.« While class would seem to be the most salient feature in such a situation, in South Asia and elsewhere ethnic or religious conflict is more significant than class struggle because diverse groups within the more advantaged class manipulate ethnic and religious differences for economic gain, or for political power. According to Tambiah religion is only a supporting player in a drama starring economic and political actors.
50 Tambiah's analysis resonates with Sardesai's analysis of the Indian situation. He finds that in today's globalizing environment, when community bonds have come under strain, people are seeking to forge a new identity by reinforcing ethnic or religious identity. The search for ethnic or religious identity can get further reinforced by a sense of insecurity a community is made to feel. This search for new identity can be used either creatively or destructively. Gandhi used this creatively as a mobilizing tool against the British rule while nurturing the notion of sarva dharma samabhava. Jihadi groups such as the Sangh Parivar use this search for identity destructively to create notions of »religious brotherhood« by positing another community like the Muslims or Christians as the common enemy. Thus for both Tambiah and Sardesai, religious violence is a manifestation of the ills of the globalized economy and people's search for a new identity, and the manipulation of these by self-serving leaders.
51 Tambiah notes that in the course of the riots people are maimed and killed and women are raped. All this is done with no sign of remorse, and worse, is glorified afterwards. What justifies the rioting, rape and arson is the label that the elite give to the masses. People who feel frustrated, because their need for affirmation is not met, seek power in numbers. Perception of threat can also drive people to seek security in numbers. For example, with the pitch of anti-Muslim rhetoric rising higher since the 1990s, the Muslims in India are found to cling more tightly to their religious identity (Larmer 2002, 27). When such groupings take place, the elite, including religious and political leaders, begin to define what collective labels are available to the groups. Such labels pit one group against another, by identifying the other as the cause of one's deprivation, frustration or source of insecurity. Though conflicts and the consequent collective violence are triggered by frustration arising from the unfulfilled social and economic pursuits, religion comes to play a significant role of in the processes that result in large scale violence.
52 The conclusion to be drawn is that there is no purely religious violence. Much of the apparently religion violence is a mask for deeper social, economic and political conflicts arising from the avarice of certain sections of society for dominion, and from a sense (actual or imaginary) of deprivation, injury, injustice and insecurity of the masses. Any attempt to grapple with religious violence will have to first address these aspects of social life and seek a separation of nationhood from religious affiliation, a national ethos above religious identity.
polylog: Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 5 (2004).
Online: http://them.polylog.org/5/fpa-en.htm
ISSN 1616-2943
Source: external linkSatya Nilayam: Chennai Journal for Intercultural Philosophy 6 (2004), 102-127.
© 2004 Author & polylog e.V.



Augustine Perumalil SJ (*1955 in Kuninji, Kerala, India) is Reader in Philosophy at Sacred Heart College in Chennai (India). His specialization is Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science, Science and Religion. He has recently published two books, The Origin and Nature of Religion (New Dehli: ISPCK, 2001), and An Invitation to Philosophy (New Dehli: ISPCK, 2002). He is co-editor of Satya Nilayam: Chennai Journal of Intercultural Philosophy.
Dr. Augustine Perumalil
Satya Nilayam Research Institute
201, Kalki Krishnamurti Road
Chennai 6000041
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