The challenges that hinder global peace and the peace movement include, among other things, communalism in all its manifestations. Communalism, from all accounts, constitutes the chain of conflicts, riots and other forms of violence between communities of different religious faith or ethnic origins. Though there remains the usual mudslinging about its causes, the blame is, more or less, common to almost all the religious/ethnic communities. The Hindus, the practitioners of the world's oldest religion 'Sanatana Dharma' (the eternal way), which preaches the spirit of ahimsa, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion among others, were seen to run riot to establish total supremacy over their rivals. The practitioners of Buddhism, whose founder, the sage Buddha, used to be heartbroken even at the slightest wound of a small bird, have been seen with a killing frenzy. The Jains, who believe nonviolence and self-control are means to liberation, were seen resorting to violence. The ethno-religious Jews, who have been commanded to 'imitate God's love for people', appeared as religious predators inflicting heavy casualties on the adversaries. The Christians, who believe in the doctrine of offering the other cheek being slapped on one, were seen sanctioning heinous crusades killing millions of innocent people. The practitioners of Islam, known as a religion of peace, are not also lagging behind in taking recourse to violence against 'enemies'. Even the smaller religious communities like the Sikhs have been seen in sword-wielding gesture at their religious opponents. Therefore, there has been any amount of communal violence in the ancient, medieval and contemporary world, which poses constant threats to peace.
Hindu-Muslim communal violence has always been a common phenomenon in India. Over 10,000 people have been killed in the race riots since the Partition of India in 1947. The inter-communal riot in the western Indian state of Gujarat had claimed the lives of more than half a thousand of people who belonged to the Muslim community in India. Contrarily, the Hindus suffer persecution in Bangladesh the true extent of which ranges from intimidation to extermination accompanying vandalism, profanities, plunder, arson attacks, molestation and rapes in between.
The government of Buddhist-majority Burma, officially known as Myanmar, has been methodically oppressing the Muslim Rohingya for decades on the pretext of religion and ethnicity. Sporadic violence and bloodshed between the Rohingya and the Rakhine Buddhists claimed more than 280 lives in the past two years. A large number of mosques, homes and businesses have been burned under the very nose of the authorities. Many of the men, women and children who tried to escape to other countries by overloaded boats risking everything for a chance at safety, have drowned at the sea. The oppressive Buddhist government keeps implementing egregious, racist policies unabashedly.
After the American Civil War of 1861-1865, members of the Protestant-led KKK ( Ku Klux Klan) organization began carrying out arson, beatings, vandalizing, lynching, murder, rape, tar-and feathering, whipping and intimidation by cross burning. They targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics, Muslims and other social or ethnic minorities. Klan members had an explicitly Christian terrorist ideology of re-establishing Protestant Christian values in America by fair means or foul. Besides, Christian militia groups destroyed almost all mosques in the Central African Republic unrest in 2014. Several massacres were committed by the Anti-balaka against Muslim civilians, forcing thousands of Muslims to flee the country. There are lots of examples of incidents of Muslims being cannibalized by the Christians.
What can be a worse example of religious atrocity than the bloody massacre of innocent children in Pakistan School attack on 16 December 2014 mounted by the Islamist militants from the Pakistani Taliban? The attack leaves 141 dead out of which 132 are children. In recent decades, such incidents of Islamic terrorism have occurred on a global scale targeting both Muslims and non-Muslims. Besides, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Ansar al-Sharia, Hezbollah, Hamas have unleashed reigns of terror and are cause of constant threats to global peace.
The Muslim people, too, have endured for more than fifty years, facing unending Zionist arrogance and aggression, which pays no heed to anything but for their feeling of supremacy over others. The proclamation of the State of Israel after the departure of the British occupying forces in May 1948 gave birth to a continued Arab-Israel hostility leading to continuous Muslim persecution by the Jews. Israeli occupation extended over a vast area of Jerusalem and Gaza Strip where Zionism turned into jingoism and hundreds of people were killed or maimed.
There are a hundred and one examples of the religious atrocities in human history. The people on earth have been worst affected by the outbreaks of sectarian violence in the name of religion. If this remains on parade, how would the dream of communal harmony come true? What else is then the mockery of civilization? These are really very vexing questions which pose serious threats to global peace and security. Although the acts of violence are not supported or done by all members of the religious communities, all are to take the blame for their community people's wrongdoing. However, there have been efforts to separate the sheep from the goats, but to no avail. Communal violence has never ever come to an end, though the degrees of occurrence have varied.
There is really much to worry about the devastating effects of the communal violence in the world-- in Europe, in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia, even in the Sub-Continent including our beloved Bangladesh. Maybe, these are, to some extent, taken care of, but we cannot feel fully reassured. Because, you never can tell that, you will not anymore hear the screams of any riot-ravaged community. However, the problems of communalism cannot be solved overnight by taking the perpetrators into custody. If we really mean to solve it, we have to dig deep into the problem.
A social, cultural and political revolution is needed to eliminate the roots of communalism from the globe. This revolution would, as the eminent Indian thinker and radical humanist MN Roy has suggested, be preceded by a philosophical revolution. People, irrespective of castes, creeds and religions, have to be aware of the benefits of a secular multi-class society. Liberalism, pluralism and mutual tolerance should be the guiding principles of our motivation. To ensure other people's fundamental rights is equally important with the establishment of one's own fundamental rights. Lack of religious tolerance turns into vindictiveness and eventually finds expression through communal violence. This is evident in all the inter-community and intra-community riots. This wildest act of malice is caused by one's militant communal feeling, which is, in other words, called fanaticism.
Harmony is a prerequisite for a democratic pluralistic society and state. Modern societies are more or less comprised of multiple classes, creeds, and religious practices. Therefore, ensuring mutual harmony calls for a secular statecraft. Religion should be taken as one of the components of a cultural whole or a community. It should not be the main governing drive or the chief determining factor in the society. Its practice should be non-violent. The social life of the people of various creeds, ideas, and dogmas can better be guided by the secular codes of conduct, than by those of a particular religion. Ruling the state by the principles of a particular religion on pretext of majority can never ensure other people's right to religion. Strictest adherence to a specific religion, and the feeling of its supremacy may leave one with a feeling of superiority aka racism, and thereby a tendency to torment the believers in other religion or the unbelievers. Persons like Guy Fawkes, Laden, Mollah Omar, or Ashok Singhal and groups like Ku Klux Klan, Taliban, ISIS and VHP are products of religious fanaticism, which is motivated by an ugly urge to pamper the supporters and diabolize the opponents. This is a sort of insanity, which is rooted in fundamentalism and in the fanatic interpretation and practice of religion.
The world is a melting pot of religions and faiths. The raiding religious fanatics should not forget that they may be in the majority in their country, but their equals in another country are in the minority. What they would do to their minority may have an equal and opposite reaction, and inspire their opposite numbers in another country to come up with a tit-for-tat behaviour. Living in the glasshouse, one should not throw stones at others. Therefore, mutual tolerance and peaceful coexistence should be the foremost survival policy of the religious and ethnic communities. To exist is to coexist! One does not need to be crusader for the protection of their religion. There is no room for militancy in the civilized world. The practice of religion should be benign and non-violent like other socio-cultural practices. It should be imbued with the spirit of humanism, non-violence, mutual tolerance, and progressiveness, and serve the greater interest of humankind as a whole. The self-styled guardians of religion should not poke their nose into it. The fundamentalists and the fanatics are not only the enemies of the people as a whole, but also the enemies of their own religions too. They are the perennial cause of tension, unrest, and even violence in the society. The much sought-after communal harmony in the world would remain a far cry from reality until the religious communities are immune from fanatical elements. Violence, hatred and spilling innocent blood can never be justified by any religious dogma.
We have every right to affirm our allegiance to our religion, but not at the cost of infringing other's religious liberties by exercising religious or political muscle. People may have the religions of their own, or may not have if they want. But the state must not be possessed of any religion and would remain completely neutral in regard to its religious allegiance. It would rather, by means of strict enforcement of the laws of the land, protect people's rights to their respective religions. The sublime beauty of religion does not lie in the high-handed display of communal supremacy. It rather lies in practicing religion singly in a meditative and collectively in a peaceful manner. The practitioners of all religions in a country should be allowed to perform their respective religious duties in their own sweet
ways quite uninterruptedly and independently of each other and of the state. None should, by any means, be allowed to resort to violence. Communal violence is antithetical to peace. Therefore, peace lies in the abolition of communal violence.
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]