Clash of the Uncivilised

The material, and pre-dominantly Christian,West is not known for reverence. And tolerance is not a virtue of the Islamic Middle-East. Given such genetic proclivities, the ongoing imbroglio over the caricaturing of the Islamic prophet by European publications is neither a collision of cultures nor a clash of civilisations; these are lofty tags. Rather, it is an ugly battle, nay, brawl, between two uncivilised opposites that lack the very basic human culture of recognising, let alone respecting, other faiths and alternative world views.

First to the facts of the case: In September a Danish newspaper carried a series of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, among other things, as wearing a headgear in the shape of a bomb with a live fuse. This expectedly raised the hackles of Muslims all over. Let alone caricaturing, even portraying the prophet or Allah is prohibited under Islam. Protests commenced promptly and ranged from street rallies to banning of Danish products in Arab countries to attacks on Danish embassies. The situation reached a flashpoint with several other European newspapers carrying the same cartoons as a way of asserting their ‘right to expression’. This has provoked more violent protests which look set to escalate. That in a nutshell is the bombshell waiting to explode!

But more than the controversial cartoons it is the current context that is adding to the confusion. The west is living under perennial paranoia of Islamic terror. The Muslim world for its part is outraged by the all round ostracisation of the community. Add to it the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the nuclear standoff vis-a vis Iran. And with rank terror outfits like Hizbullah and Hamas riding to power in Lebanon and Palestine respectively, the distrust between the west and Islamic countries is at a peak. And all of these western powers have to contend with fast-expanding, but disgruntled, Muslim populations at home too! And the conflict goes beyond terrorism, politics, economics and diplomacy. The West and the Islamic nations find their value systems, if you can call it that, incompatible in an increasingly globalised milieu: While in the West anything goes, in Mullah land everything is taboo!

Liberalism to the point of reckless and vulgar display of the basest of instincts and feelings is a western fad. It passes muster under freedom of speech and expression. Self-restraint is the only limiting factor and is often observed only in the breach. The snooty and smug westerner is a stereotype that is entrenched in Oriental minds, thanks to characters ranging from Bond ‘007 to Bush-2. From democracy to secularism to human rights, the west has used every tool to subjugate and exploit nations and peoples, while its own track records on those counts have been dismal, to put it mildly. From propping up tin-pot dictators to bombing defenceless nations, the western powers are guided solely by their material self-interests and security concerns, an imperial military mindset that now passes under the guise of economic and technological superiority. The European newspapers were only displaying that all-too-familiar snobbish, irreverent mentality by publishing those cartoons with their intent to provoke flashing like neon signs. It is part of their ‘ethos’ and they did it with full cognisance of the consequences. And their expression of regret too is purely tactical.

While the West has no qualms about trampling on sensibilities, at the other end of the spectrum are the mad mullahs and manic mujahideens of the mid-east, waiting precisely for such ignition. These inflammable and indoctrinated individuals, unfortunately form or at least, dominate the mainstream in the Muslim world and it is their writ that runs…and ruins the rest. Here the moderates are the fringe and are allowed neither political space nor voice. The belt from Egypt eastward to Pakistan is a land of eternal strife and has never known peace. Death and destruction stalk these countries as much as dates and deserts, while blood flows as freely as oil. If these mullahs are not fighting the west or Zionists, then they are busy fighting amongst themselves. And religious bigotry is always the means and the end. For them those beyond their pale have no right to exist. Little surprise that they have recommended beheading the publishers of the cartoons for the blasphemy! True to type, again.

The world is now, as always, caught in the crossfire between these two fanatical extremes. Though both the west and middle east represent predatory belief systems they vary in their methods. While political Christianity of the West goes by the Word, militant Islam swears by the sword. This is a historical truth and also a continuing legacy. Both have the dubious track record of decimating several native civilisations in their expansionist zeal and are rooted in intolerance. The west is sophisticated and resorts to deriding and dismantling existing social structures in the name of ‘civilising’ the world. The mid-east marauders are blunt and rely on physical destruction. But the relentless assault of these two dominant movements is rendering the planet inhospitable, in all respects, environmental, economic or merely existential.

India that is Bharat presents a picture in stark contrast. As witnesses and victims to the onslaught of both over the centuries, we Indians have learnt to take these forces in our secular stride. But the flip side is that this has often worked to our detriment. Indians are tolerant and secular owing to our ancient culture, and not because our ‘modern’ Constitution ordains them to be. But that innate broad mindedness and tolerant outlook has turned out to be wider and more porous than the Khyber pass. If Islamic invaders and British colonists enslaved this land, post independence, home-made false secularism and self- deprecation have become our masters. Reason why an M F Hussain could get away with impunity repeatedly by painting Hindu goddesses and even Bharat Mata in the nude which is worse than caricaturing. Or how idols of gods could be broken on the streets. Yet we are deemed communal and lectured to, while only in legitimate and lawful defence of our culture and its symbols, even as our tormentors are indulged no end.

The free-wheeling West can do with some moral restraint. The hot-headed mid-east, for its part, certainly needs doses of tranquil liberalism. And Indians, in turn, can try and muster some indignation and pride. If not for anything, at least to keep M F Hussains in check!

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R