Has human civilisation peaked out and is the process being replaced by lumpenisation of human society? The other day, reading a debate on journalist Faraz Dervesh’s Facebook page about the spread of terror in Pakistan, I was shocked by the utter insensitivity in the manner in which participants spoke about death and violence. The participants were all Pakistanis but belonging to different regions and provinces of that country. Some of debaters came from Punjab while others had Pakhtoon and Baloch origins. The intensity of animosity that separated each from the other was appalling. Hatred born of prejudices and irrational biases was the highlight of that debate.
Apart from the bitterness in arguments forwarded by each of the participants, the language all of them used did not belong to the civilised world even though some of them wrote impeccable English, which makes me suspect that a majority of them may be highly educated or they were Pakistanis settled in Western countries. The degree of hostility and at times the vulgarity in the language used made it hard for the reader to believe that this was a debate among nationals of one and the same country. Not even debates among Indo-Pak hate-mongers stoop lower than this one did.
All this struck me as very painful and saddening. It was no surprise to me that people belonging to different parts of the same country should be so full of regional biases and hatred towards one another. Nor was the tendency in almost all participants to paint the other as a “symapthiser of terrorists. Everyone said he was opposed to terrorism and everyone blamed it on the other.
What was the most painful in this debate was the tendency among all participants to distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists, and the eagerness to accuse the other of being sympathisers of the “bad terrorists. ” and of being “the first to start it all.” Thus, while Pakhtoons accused Punjabis of subjecting them to discrimination and slavery right from 1947 onwards, the Punjabis pointed to the language spoken by the terrorists which according to them always revealed terrorists to belong to Pakhtoon or Baloch provinces. The latter accused Punjabis of treating other states of Pakistan as nothing but colonies of Punjab and held Pakistani Punjabis guilty of the dismemberment of the country in 1971.
What was remarkable in this debate was that it happened and happens among people belonging to a nation which strikes one for its religious homogeneity. After all, Pakistan was formed on the basis of one common religion — Islam — and was in fact meant to be a homeland for Muslims — and different from India where Muslims were only one of the many people to reside.
One would have thought that the commonality of religion — a potent force at any given time — would ensure national unity in this new dream land for Muslims called Pakistan. That obviously has not happened. In fact, Pakistan today is a nation in the grip of a suicidal war. It is not just Sunnis and Shias but even people from within these two sects who appear to be interminably at war with one another. The lines of conflict are drawn in different shades for different issues.
And this opens a whole new debate the implications of which are neither peculiar nor confined only to Pakistan. It is about a new culture. And that culture is the culture of intolerance. No society seems to be in a mood to behave as cohesive unity for its citizens find it too hard to respect differences of opinion in their so-called opponents. The culture of intolerance is spreading fast. And — what is even more worrying — it is defying all logic and throwing all unifying factors to the winds.
Everywhere, people are finding new excuses to draw distinctions and then fight bloody battles over those distinctions. I have brought up the example of Pakistan only because nowhere else does the case of homogenous society exist as strongly as it does here. And if a state founded on a common religion is not able to treat a common religious faith as a unifying sentiment, then one wonders where else would a case for unity exist? We are familiar already with the history of bloody intra-community conflicts in both Islam and Christianity. Hinduism is in any case, not a homogenous monolith. There is more variety inside Hinduism than there is in the rest of the world put together. There are castes and there are sub-castes and then there are sub-sub-castes. The Hindu society is infinitely divisible, and that has been both its richness and its poverty and weakness.
But internecine terrorist conflicts in Pakistan prove that it is not just divisions of religion, nationality, caste, language or ethnicity which cause unrest in societies all across the globe. Something else seems to play. And that something defies the logic of distinctions. It is no longer just religion or tribal instincts which cause wars in societies. Violence threatens people of the same race, the same religion, the same province, the same, nation speaking the same language as much as it threatens multi-religious, multi-cultural or multi-lingual societies.
So what is that something new which has emerged as the new force to threaten the very foundations of human civilisation? Although religions, tribes, nations etc have played a major role in social structuring, yet what has really helped human civilisation to grow as civilisation is the basic social instinct. The most dominating feature of that social instinct is tolerance of and respect for diversity. Societies have existed peacefully for centuries — in India, for example — even when these are characterised by infinite internal divisions. For the most part in history, Hindus and Muslims have lived peacefully together in India. Different castes in Hindus have formed a cohesive social unit of interdependence with a spirit of tolerance towards if not respect for casteist divisions. People with different religious, cultural, linguistic and regional backgrounds have co-existed peacefully and as friends in most of the metropolitan cities across the world.
People with different religious, cultural, linguistic and regional backgrounds have so far co-existed peacefully and as friends in most of the metropolitan cities across the world
It was hoped that as time passes and the zone of human knowledge and understanding of the universe expands, this spirit of tolerance would become more and more a part of human behavior and finally turn into a basic adhesive human instinct. All religions and all progressive ideologies have sought to promote this belief. It was hoped that the more we shed ignorance, the more will we be governed by principles of peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. India, as one of the oldest cradles of human civilisation, would hold a torch unto the rest of the world in humanity’s march towards all-pervading peace. Love would become the governing force in human civilisation for it is impossible to talk of being civilised without first making love the foundation of all human interactions.
In fact, love is so natural even in the wild world of survival of the fittest that one can never fail to be touched by instances of compassion among animals not only of the same species but even those belonging to different species. Inter-species relationships, some of them becoming strong life-long bonds, are not as uncommon in nature as was originally believed. It has now been proved — empirically and psychologically — that even among predators, the first instinct is not to kill but to love and play. And if there were no race for food in the wild, the levels of violence there would drop several hundred times.
With love — not senseless hatred — being the principle driving force in nature, it was only natural that the epitome of creation, the human race, would become a role model of it for the entire universe. That is the direction in which the highest forms of mysticism and purest religion takes us. As education has spread and boundaries of knowledge have been expanding, it is only natural that one should hope for seeing the virtues of love, tolerance and mutual respect become the cardinal themes of our civilisation. That has unfortunately not been happening. In fact, the past twenty years have been the worst as far as respect for diversity is concerned.
The time to stem the rot is now. In India, already, we are sitting on a landmine of insane mutual suspicions, intolerance and hatred. Gangs of goons and lumpens roam the streets armed with weapons of destruction to enforce a certain version of civilisation. Some would die and kill to stop others from expressing their love in their chosen modes of expression. Rituals of love are getting synonymous with communities. That is the shame and a disgrace. What is even more disgraceful and worrying is that all this is finding violent expressions. This can not only inflict incalculable damage on our international credibility as a secular nation but destroy whatever hopes we cherish of leaving a legacy of love and happiness for our children. Intolerance has begun to threaten the very foundations of human civilisation from America to India and right across the globe. We owe it to our future generations to reverse the trend and put the wheels back on the track of civilisation. The price for our failure will have to be paid by our children. But even before that, our inability to start the task of redemption right away would mean that the demon would catch up with us in our own lifetime. In fact, there are indications that it is already upon us and the task of recovery is already too late for the start. We cannot afford to delay by even a single day our crusade against hatred, intolerance and violence. The time to act is upon us. Here. Now.