Byline by M J Akbar: The Comforts and Dangers of Sin and Stupidity
The choice is admittedly difficult, but which of these three is the biggest threat to the social stability of India: greed, hatred or stupidity? Our polity is less vulnerable than our social compact, although the first can, logically, only be a manifestation of the second. But the former is structured in legislation and held together by institutions that have won support across diversity. Social harmony is always under threat from human excess and bile, both of which escape the confines of reason with a reprehensible consistency.
There are some specialists who go the extra mile and combine two of the three elemental dangers. Pramod Muthalik, chief of the Sri Ram Sene, is a standard-bearer of this breed; hatred is insufficient as a spur, he needs the greasy lubrication of hard cash as well. Such men must hate God even more than they hate men: why else would they name their parties, designed for evil objectives, after a God? Hindu belief places Lord Rama at the pinnacle of idealism; Iqbal, who was later adopted as the poet-laureate of the idea of Pakistan (although Pakistan was born much after he died), called Lord Rama Imam-e-Hind. It is only when you cannot differentiate between good and evil that violence becomes your ethic and hatred your ideology; when you have obliterated humanity from your consciousness you have also eliminated any understanding of divinity. This warp of the essence is not confined to any faith.
Terrorists who butcher innocents, but name their outfits after the Prophet of Islam are exactly the same. Any Muslim will add salle ala alaihe wa sallam after mentioning the name of Prophet Muhammad. It means: “peace be upon him”. We wish the Prophet peace precisely because peace is the highest ideal in our world. Peace, salaam, is the ineradicable element of public discourse, whether to garrulous friend or monosyllabic, minimalist stranger. Only irreparably twisted minds besmirch the name of the Prophet by associating it with terrorism.
The world, as has been said with too long a sigh, is what it is, but that does not mean that we have to accept it as it is. We can take some consolation in the fact that there is broad consensus against hate-fuelled violence, because it is clearly the greatest destabiliser. This consensus weakens considerably when we confront greed or stupidity. Both seem to have rather more supporters than common sense might bargain for. There is even a theory that greed is good because it is the Rolls Royce engine of growth. It is hardly surprising that such notions are perpetuated by grabbers, who claim respectability on the basis of a partnership between greed and agreed. Evidence to the contrary is building up at every level, individual, social, corporate, national. When greed infects the soul of corporate power then it can cause havoc, whether in a hyped-up cricket tournament or the New York Stock Exchange. Greed is eating away the capital of capitalism, eroding the basis on which a successful contemporary economy has been created. Greed is regressive, self-destructive, and yet has been turned into the holy grail of progress.
Face it: it is the greed of a limited slab of India that condemns 80% of our country to unacceptable levels of poverty, stark hunger and hopelessness. Each time the well-off look into a mirror, they will find one reason for the rise of Naxalism. The indifference of haves is the principal inspiration for the violence of the have-nots. Greed has a loyal friend, hypocrisy.
The most acceptable sin is clearly stupidity. It is possible that jokes have lent a slightly droll nuance to stupidity. Its dangers should not be underestimated, particularly when stupidity is harnessed to any interpretation of faith. This week’s evidence lies in some of the fatwas that are consuming the news cycle in this dull, post-Parliament season. A fatwa, it should be clarified, is only the opinion of a cleric whose academic credentials are considered acceptable; it is not a law passed through a legislature and backed by the authority of the state. Still, even if an absurd fatwa damages one home, it must be repudiated. Extremist clerics have misled Muslims by promoting bias against Muslim women with a consistency that is the prerogative of a closed mind. They have done their best to separate Muslims from modernity; now they want to divorce Muslims from the modern economy. This is a heinous travesty, since Islam rescued its first communities from the grip of jahalat, or obscurantism. Dramatic displays of silliness will, but naturally, provoke headlines, but they will not travel. No Muslim is going to resign from an insurance company, or surrender his or her LIC policy because of a marginal fatwa from Deoband. The faithful have more resilience than some of their self-appointed preachers believe.
The fringe, violent, greedy or stupid, will continue to damage, but will never destroy India.