Global Rise Religious Violence
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The global rise of violence is mostly related to religion. Some terror acts are committed in the name of God with an idea to please Him or more interestingly, to safeguard His name or His teachings which are always about love, compassion, equality and justice for all. Equivocally, all religion preaches these values and expects their followers to follow these tenets of love and compassion. Yet, we cannot name one single religion that is not named and blamed for terrorism. Interestingly, the God is attributed with the qualification that he is Omnipotent, but the human beings think that they are responsible to protect their God, and the religious shrines. God is supposed to be the Father of all, but the children of God kill one another with ferocity and think that they please their father with this act of violence! Lastly, God is supposed to be Omniscient, but seems to be deaf and blind by many innocent persons who lose life, limbs, loved ones or property when some people of their own community or from some other religious sector are trying to love and safeguard the interests of their God. In this scenario, many doubt the existence of God or the validity or the importance of the religious texts which imbibe hatred among people. This paper tries to look into the philosophy of violence in the name of God.
Organised Religion and Power Hierarchy
Religion, many believe, has evolved from fear. Ancient people were ignorant, were afraid of natural calamities, diseases, wild animal, etc. and tried to answer the question and minimise the distress faced by many. Those who could solve problems by force or techniques or who tried to answer basic questions, gained name, fame and power among the community or the tribe. And, they could not easily let go of the power and the money or fame or luxury attached to it. And, this scenario is true even now. The richest NGOs are all temples and churches. Apart from the knowledge and ability they also have the financial power to rule the mass. Moreover, they appeal to the basic need of security and fear for unknown future while consoling the pathetic past and present dealing with the unknown and grey areas of life creating a vague romanticism about their very existence. In time, this knowledge and associated power was organised methodically to use the manifested power for the benefit of many but centralised with a significant few. The goodness or badness of the religion, the benevolence or atrocity that it showed, are actually the outcome of understanding and thought pattern of these people.
Usually, terror or violence is a repercussion of an already existing violence or oppressive act, whether real or perceived. When one segment of the society oppresses another part, sooner or later, there will be revolt by the victims. The oppressing part gain some benefit through their act or are protecting their already prevailing interests and usually they play their part well by using religious or social sanctity. The process continues till someone from the oppressed sector is knowledgeable and brave enough to question the status quo. If he is alone, it does not take time to mute his voice by force or even exterminate his life. But, when he is a charismatic leader with an influential communication capability, it does not take time to assemble a number of followers who will be ready to die or kill on his words. It is possible that these disciples had already felt the oppression and just wanted a leader. Or, it is also possible that they are charmed by the charismatic leader and his charm is accentuated by implementing belief, value and training to discipline them into the thought pattern and action plan of his preference.
This process of victimisation creates an understanding about the people and their feelings when they have to face oppression among the oppressed community. And, more often than not, the social coercion is justified by the name of religion, religious teachings from the scriptures. It is interesting to note here that most ancient scriptures are written in archaic language and dialects that today very few understand as they lack the required knowledge, training, time and even curiosity to know and understand the original texts. In this scenario, the so called leaders and gurus interpret the language of the scripture to fit their ideology. In many cases, even they lack the mandatory fineness to really appreciate the cryptographic message underneath the apparent language. So, they construe the meaning best to their belief and ability and propagate the same. This has been shown a number of times through the interview of leaders and the followers. One such example is the definition of Sikh given by Bhai Dhanna Singh: “Sikh is one who listens to Guru’s command and fights injustice”(Juergensmeyer, 2000, p. 100). Now, how do you explain who is fighting for justice, even the tormenter has a cause to do so! “The terrorism for some is the fight for freedom for another” as the saying goes! This theme is explained beautifully through many interviews where the Juergensmeyerquestions the beliefs and justifications that lead to violence. The interviewees never had a satisfying answer; Harjap Singh for an example says the violence is for the cause of Sikh community and this is an act of martyrdom (Juergensmeyer, 2000, p. 94). But, did he have any clear justification for so many deaths including many of his family members, is not well communicated. Similarly Bhindranwale called his movement “a struggle for the faith, for the Sikh nation, for the oppressed” (Juergensmeyer, 2000, p. 98). Once again a lofty but vague idea that was responsible for so many deaths. And, while the number of death counts, many lose their limbs, income and property and the family suffer everywhere.
The religious violence is often the effect of the charismatic leader with their magnetic personality and fascinating communication skills on the masses. We must remember here the mass need not be an ignorant gullible set of people, but the leaders use the catchy language to engross them. In many cases, like the case of violence in 1928, the Jewish Mourning Day in the Temple Mount (Fox, 2004), many riots and acts of mass violence are created to suit someone’s need for power and authority. This theme has been explained again and again in by Juergensmeyer’s(2000). Single and stray incidences are emphasised and the obsessive nature of some dwelt and delved into it. The communication skills brought in the same or similar kind of feeling in otherwise decent and noble personalities.The peace loving normal people who are otherwise not bothered about anything other than himself and immediate family rouses from their slumber to take action against the injustice someone else of the community is facing. This is a noble act indeed. The leaders like Mann, Narinder Singh were men of distinction and were in a position to lead a life away from violence in the safety of their position and fame. The leader like Kanwarjit Singh had no reason to lose his life along with many followers. Bhindranwale was brutally killed and caused death to many by his acts of violence, in operation Blue Star and the riot that followed Mrs Gandhi’s death which was cited as an action of revenge.They had lived life they believed but had brought misery to many families with their ambiguous notion of justice.
Many intellectuals tried to venture into this culture of violence citing the mythology and scriptures.
Power: Then and Now
As Swami Vivekananda said, the mythology is the depiction of the imaginative thought process of the contemporary men. And, the beginning of civilisation in every country was marked by violence with aspiration to control the mass with power. This power may come with weapons, as with kings; or, may come with knowledge as with teachers. Kings intimidated the subjects with brutal power; Religious leaders ruled the society with social sanctity. We know all these through mythological stories and epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. They do depict the contemporary society, no doubt; but in no way they should be considered as history. It is true that almost all scriptures of all religions show this violence as there were violence and the fight for power to rule the mass, and gain more power. In those turbulent times, when power and rule of the society was not sanctified, morality was in its babyhood, a power hierarchy set up was the need of the hour. What our modern leaders forget that the time and social context has changed and the same theories may not be applicable in its entirety any more. Also, in most cases they are disrupting an otherwise peaceful set up in the name of bringing justice to some and citing the examples of cosmic war. Moreover, many tend to explain the rulings of the scriptures, which are already ambiguous, to suit their theory and thus creating more conflict. The mass, on the other hand, tend to follow the leader without understanding the logic behind his sermons or checking them with the original text. For example, a citing from Gita“Na HanyateHanyamaneSharire”, that is “he who slays, slays not; he who is slain, is not slain”is used in many places to justify killing but actually the lines are about self-actualisation!
Another reason why the religious violence is on the rise is that views of moderate leaders are often unknown to the mass as they usually prefer not to be involved with enthusiastic public communication. The values like love and compassion for all are more meaningful to them and they would not like to harm another child of the Father whom he worships as God, even on the face of death. This value is so obvious for them that they do not come out in open to preach this. Often, their message of unconditional love lose its meaning in the social milieu of atrocities. And, in absence of meaningful compassion and consolation from respected authority, people move into the embrace of violence which promises “justice”.
At the end, what really anyone get by violence? In the context of taking revenge or to exercise control and power, eventually both sides lose valuable lives, time and property. In the moral context, may be the victims are able to demonstrate what they have lost by making the tormentor face the same tormenting situation; but, does it really make the masses get the message? What is the morality behind killing and inflicting losses upon many, and when many of them are innocents and not involved in atrocities conducted in any way! When, mass start recognising this one single fact they start being disillusioned and the movement start losing its momentum, as shown by Juergensmeyer(2000).
Interrelationship of the religion and violence could be seen everywhere. Violence in the name of religion, to protect a religious community or violence justified by the misinterpreted religious texts, are a global issue now and not limited to Sikhism, India or any other community and country as such. Also, the act of violence in the name of religion in one part of the country soon reaches other part of the world and the effect is not limited to the people of the community anymore; the local people of the region, innocent and without any knowledge for the cause of the violence get caught in the act. What’s more, many a times, the people of the same community have to bear the brunt of the act. In this perspective, real time interviews of the leaders and followers who are the alleged perpetrators of violence are the need of the day to clear doubt among many about their obsessed psychology, thought patterns, beliefs and values they practice explaining the logic behind the culture of violence.This kind of articles and discussions leave the reader with a few questions about the justification of the violence, the price that has to be paid for it and feel the sadness of the involved people whether they are the perpetrator or the sufferer.
Juergensmeyer, M. (2000). Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Los Angeles, University of California Press.
Fox, J. and Sandler, S. (2004).Bringing Religion intoInternational Relations:Religion in International Relations. UK, Palgrave Macmillan.