- The Taliban Terror
- India's Record is not Spotless
- Swami Agnivesh & Valson Thampu
WHEN religious light strikes the likes of Mulla Mohammad Omar, the
supreme leader of the Taliban, the result can only be apocalyptic. Religious zeal may take
two divergent paths. A man may prove his religiosity by living the noble ideals and values
of his faith. This, however, is a demanding option. The cheap alternative is to exalt
one's God by bringing down all other Gods. If you project yourself as the enemy of your
neighbour's God then, maybe, your God could be fooled into believing that you are his man.
This simplistic logic explains why many are willing to kill or die for their religion, but
none cares to live by its light.
The Taliban might offer the excuse of Islamic law or theology to hide
the nakedness of its fundamentalism. Islam does not believe in idols; but that should not
be selective or literal. Idolatry (the worship of idols) can take many forms. Whenever
irrational importance is attributed to a material object, no matter what its shape,
idolatry results. Idolatry is a sin because it caricatures the nature of God. The idea
that God resides only in certain places and that one has to go there (as in the case of
shrines, pilgrimages, Haj etc.) to meet him, or to secure religious merit, is essentially
idolatrous. All religious groups are made to idolise shrines, scriptures, and saints in
varying degrees. These become the means by which the priestly class formats the
religiosity of their folds.
Genuine religious reform must start within one's own religious home.
Idolatry is incompatible with reason and human dignity. Being ruthless with idolatry
within one's own fold is the best argument against idolatry everywhere else. That was what
the genuine reformers of religions tried to do in the past. But in times of spiritual
decay, self-criticism becomes an unpardonable sin. Today condemning and coercing everybody
else has become the proof of religious virility, and it yields instant profit and
The current Taliban offensive has two broad features which it shares
with all the fundamentalist convulsions in our country. First, it is subjective and
selective. It absolutises one's unilateral assumptions on what is outside the scope of
one's religious competence and responsibility. Second, it articulates religious sentiments
in the language of aggression and destruction. Violence is fundamental to religious
fundamentalism. When the fundamentalist mindset acquires the muscles of militarism the
result is bound to be nightmarish.
The idea of vandalising the Bamiyan Buddhas is akin more to the
military spirit than to the ethos of Islam, which is, literally, the religion of peace. It
is native to the martial spirit that the domination of one ethnic group over the other is
incomplete without the humiliation of the Gods of the vanquished. The Taliban is not a
religious entity, though it dons the cloak of religion to cover the nakedness of its
aggression and irreligion. The greatest danger to a religion is its own fundamentalist
caricature. One has to pity Islam as it undergoes the vulgarisation of Talibanisation in
That notwithstanding, it is an entertaining piece of irony that the
most vehement condemnation of the Taliban misadventure has come from the sangh parivar
quarters. It proves yet again that the bitterest oppositions are between two identical
forces. It should not surprise us, then, that the protagonists of Ayodhya in December of
1992 see the Taliban project as a `dastardly deed'. This is one of those unique moments in
which the condemnation of others becomes blatant self-condemnation.
In the end, the real issue is neither Ayodhya nor the Bamiyan Buddhas.
From a fundamentalist standpoint, both are useful only as tools for whipping up the
communal frenzy that is expected to serve at least two purposes. First, it helps to divert
the attention of the people from their own burning issues. Ridding the land of some
shrines is deemed a more urgent priority than feeding the hungry or clothing the naked.
Second, it helps to establish the perverse logic by which people can be degraded into
tools to serve the hidden agenda of their pseudo-religious ventriloquists. Though this is
a frontal insult to human dignity and integrity, fundamentalist projects succeed in
retaining the blind loyalty of the masses for a period of time. This is achieved mainly by
playing up the popular craving for aggression and violence that is endemic in an age of
spiritual decay. The Taliban principle has deep psychological roots. The popular honeymoon
with fundamentalism lasts until its destructive scope is fully played out.
In the end, it is important to realise that the Taliban is not just a
beast that prowls at a distance. It is a potent reality at work in every religious
constituency that is monopolised by vested interests. The prime `Taliban motive,' so to
speak, is to foster a cultic outlook in order to anchor the people on a contrived
illusion. But for the Bamiyan Buddhas, how many of us would have ever thought of Mulla
Omar at the present time? Nearer home, what other survival kits does the sangh parivar
have other than Ayodhya and the bogey of conversions?
The claim of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi, the Taliban spokesman in the US,
that the bombardment of the statues of Buddha is "in retaliation to the demolition of
the Babri Masjid in 1992" is a clever afterthought, calculated to embarrass the
Vajpayee government in the eyes of the world. Mr Vajpayee is theoretically right in
denouncing the Taliban move as "a further obscurantist regression - an assault on
centuries of Afghan tradition". But he has to secure the moral right to be so
indignant. As long as his party continues to whitewash the black deed that tarnished
India's global image, we cannot hope to be taken seriously in our protestation against the
Of course, all civilised people must decry and discredit the Taliban
syndrome beyond our borders. It is a phenomenon programmed for destruction and endemic
under-development. But the logic of fundamentalism dictates that its followers at home
will be at the forefront of this ritual for whatever political mileage they may derive
from it. But those who remember the first 15 pages of Veer Savarkar's book, Hindutva,
do not need to be persuaded that it was not only in Afghanistan that the Buddha and his
followers were administered a raw deal.
- In Brief
- * Genuine religious reform must begin in one's own religious home
- * The vandalism at Bamiyan goes against the ethos of Islam
- * The most critical opposition to the Taliban comes from the sangh parivar