SV: ICHR controversey

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sun Mar 5 11:53:30 UTC 2000

Bharat Gupt [SMTP:abhinav at DEL3.VSNL.NET.IN] skrev 05. mars 2000 02:20:
> Also there seems to be presumption in Prof. Fosse comparison that just as
> religion
> withered away in Europe due to success of materialistic technology, so shall
> it be
> in Asia. The futility of dogmatic differences shall be realised through
> suffering
> as they were in affluent Europe and then dogmatism shall be abandoned.

No, this is not my presumption. I don't believe that religion will wither away
in Asia for the foreseeable future. Nor do I believe that Asia will/can obtain
the sort of wasteful affluence that you see in the West.

> Also as a cultural phenomenon, religious zest in Asia has increased both
> the
> poor and the affluent. Asia is not likely to take the European road.
> And so has Islam acquired a greater assertiveness (often with Western support
> as
> in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan to humble Orthodox Russia).

Here you seem to imply that the West was/is concerned with humbling Russia for
religious reasons. I don't believe that the politics of Bosnia/Kosovo has
anything to do with such concerns. The Yugoslav conflict did not only produce a
humanitarian problem of enormous dimensions that was the concern of many
Westerners. What is more important is that it generated a great deal of
refugees that were a burden on Western treasuries while at the same time
introducing a general instability in the area that could have developed into a
much bigger and more dangerous conflict. When the West finally intervened in
Kosovo, it did so to take care of its own immediate interests. As for
Afghanistan, it is worth noticing that the American who probably did the most
important job to get the US involved was Zbigniew Brzesinski, an ethnic Pole
with a hatred for Soviet oppression. The American involvement in Afghanistan
was basically an attempt to fight communism by proxy, and this seems to have
worked. The fact that Russia is Orthodox, is irrelevant.

> The South Asian and Indian conflicts based on religion and community
> differences,
> therefore, have to be resolved by bridging the communication  gaps and not by
> ignoring,
> subduing or wishing away religion as the secularists have been doing for
> years.

I would certainly agree that there are gaps that need to be bridged. My point
is rather that dealing with past Muslim sins in the present situation is not
going to bridge any gaps. To the contrary, in the present situation, any
discussion of past atrocities on either side is likely to deliver ammunition to
the fanatics. Let me here state clearly that the Hindus are not the only ones
to blame for the unpleasant situation. Muslim extremists are every bit as bad
as their Hindu counterparts. Thus, the challenge to responsible politicians,
both Muslim and Hindu, is immense. I would also say that many of the problems
we are faced with today are due to Congress politics, as I have said earlier,
they really played the cards into the hands of the extreme religious right.

Now, the BJP/RSS/VHS combine has made certain political claims very clear:
members of non-Indian religions have nothing to do in India. Thus both
Christians and Muslims are being targeted in various ways. If you want my
scenario for such politics, here it is:

I do not believe that India will end up in a trench war of any kind. What I
foresee is rather the possibility of a social melt-down, caused by pressure
brought to bear on the Muslim and Christian minorities. It is fairly naive to
believe that they will all accept being re-enrolled as Hindus. The more
pressure, the more likely it is that you get guerilla and terrorist movements.
India has had them before (remember the Naxalites?)  Furthermore, India has
enemies that might be quite happy to fund and arm such movements. India has a
tremendous coast line which would make arms smuggling fairly easy (at least,
that is what I suspect). Since violence creates violence, you will get into a
spiral where members of different castes, religions etc. are at each other's
throats. Then the death toll starts to rise. The experiences of the Brits in
Norther Ireland and of the Spanish authorities in the Basque area shows us that
terrorist organizations are extremely difficult to deal with. The constant need
for weapons that such organisations have will produce a corresponding need for
weapons in other sectors of India's society. You risk getting an serious
increase in arms among various private citizens and self-defence organizations,
caste senas etc. Before you know it, India will become extremely difficult to
control, if not simply uncontrollable.

The challenge for India's politicians is therefore to create a society based on
religious tolerance. You can be zealous of your religion and still respect the
right of others to think and pray differently.  I never understood why people
with ideas about a "unitary" state for  a multiethnic society don't look to the
only multi-ethnic state that is a resounding success: Switzerland. There is no
"Swiss" religion, ther e is no "Swiss" language, there is just the perception
of a commonality of interests shared by all Swiss. But the Swiss got started at
a time when modern nationalism with all its weird supremacy ideas hadn't been

> It is for this reason that Islamic iconoclasm , which does not mean
> historical
> plunderings only  but also the present day Islamic fundamentalist ideology of
> not
> accepting iconophilia (not just of Hinduism but of all kinds in its broadest
> cultural
> and  philosophical sense) needs to be addressed , discussed and engaged in
> India.

The problem is not that fundamentalists don't accept icons. They do not have
the power to do anything about Hindu and Christian iconism anyway. Muslims may
be aniconic among themselves, they may think that iconism is a bad idea, and
they may even say so - these things are part of normal human rights. But of
course they do not have the right to force others to become aniconic. The
debate that India needs, is rather a debate about how human rights and
religious rights are supposed to function. No religious group has the right to
force its views on another group. How do you draw the line between "private"
religion and public society? How do you create mutual respect and mutual
tolerance? I will still claim that a focus on the questions you bring up will
only create more problems. When Muslims feel that their religion is being
targeted, they tend to jump into the trenches. What India needs is a society
where people can believe freely in their various gods or philosophies while
respecting the rights of others to do the same. If Hindus "target" aspects of
Islam that they regard as problematic in the present situation, there will not
be a dialogue, only a quarrel. In principle, critique of a religion should
primarily be the responsibility of the members of that religion.

Hence every attempt at reassessment of  history written in
> Congress
> Raj is projected as a Hindutva conspiracy.

All countries need to rewrite their history every now and then (here we rewrite
world history every 20th year or so). What matters is how you do it, and in the
case of India, probably also *when* you do it.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

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