Unity in diversity?

The ongoing dealings with Pakistan and the increased terrorism in India are issues that epitomize contradiction. To many, it seems as though these are two sides of the same coin. Yet, while a majority of the population, if the TOI polls be an accurate standard, seems to feel that India should go the Israel way in dealing with this issue, the Prime Minister feels that war is not the answer. Pakistan is as reluctant to “own up” as India is to throw “proof” at them. There is considerable instability at the border, and a war could be in the pipeline. The BJP has the sole agenda of illustrating exactly how and where the Congress goofed up, rather than illustrating exactly how they plan to improve the situation.


But what is most worrying is the effect all this is having on the common man. Only a few months ago, through a blog discussion, I realized how open-minded the youth of today is, as far as religion is concerned. While many are professing atheism or agnosticism as their preferred ‘religious orientation’, they are tolerant towards those who don’t, and respect their beliefs. This is an extremely positive change, as it means that religion as a source of conflict is slowly becoming redundant.


However, since the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, attitudes are changing. Muslims are facing discrimination, and that is a fact that we cannot ignore. The papers have carried news off and on: Muslims asked to get off a plane in America; books by Muslim authors banned in Mumbai bookstores; Pakistanis being denied entry into hotels; the incidents are peppered all over. The question is, can we blame people for this suspicious attitude?


With attacks coming shockingly closer home each time, it is only natural for people to look out for anything that seems to be out of the ordinary. Yet, they also need to avoid excess paranoia, or more accurately, narrow-mindedness, and refrain from holding the entire Muslim community responsible for the havoc that a few people are causing.


While scavenging a popular question-and-answer service online, I came across a thread to this effect. The topic under discussion was whether it was right to hold a Muslim responsible or answerable for any act committed under the name of Islam. It was quite disarming to see that the general response was a resounding ‘yes’, with opinions being expressed ranging from the belief that “Muslims are largely intolerant of other religions”, to the idea that “Islam propagates terror as a doctrine”.


It is easy to say that the Islamic community is not ‘protesting’ against the attacks. How many of us protest against things happening in our daily life? In any case, not protesting doesn’t automatically imply endorsing; they’re not polar opposites of each other. What people fail to realize is that it is such an attitude which ultimately led to wars and partition throughout history. We’ve read of it in literature, ranging from Homer’s Iliad to Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines. We’ve read of it in history textbooks, under the popular euphemism ‘divide and rule’. It’s the concept of ‘The Other’ again, making people believe the idea that just because we don’t pray to the same Gods, or live on the other side of a ‘border’, we’re different.


It is true that it is in human nature to become prejudiced easily and stereotype or judge one type of people by the actions of others from that group. But by doing so, we’re just playing into the hands of propagandists like Raj Thackeray. We need to realize that there is no concept of superiority or inferiority; that people cannot be clubbed together into broad blocks. They need to be seen as individuals first. It is time that we found our voice and used it to break out of the vicious circle that we are stuck in, a circle of division, hatred, inequality, and dissatisfaction that leads to protests, terrorism and war. In the words of Pablo Casals, “Love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”


Kriti Bajaj



[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/olivander/31821048/]