United colours of tolerance
V. Krishna Ananth

The Clash of Intolerances
by Ramin Jahanbegloo. Har-Anand Publications. Pages 156. Rs 295

The Clash of IntolerancesModern history is replete with instances of wars being fought in the name of God. The crusades and the 100 years war that ravaged Europe, the two World Wars in the short 20th century and the savagery now being witnessed in Iraq and Palestine; all this and also the discrimination against human beings of Asian descend are all leading intellectuals to look for explanations and solutions to save human race from certain destruction. The cause for concern is all the more today with the huge stockpile of weapons, conventional and nuclear, in nations across the world. And that all this is being done in the name of God is leading scholars to look for explanations in order to prove that such acts as war and destruction are in fact against God’s wish.

Ramin Jahanbegloo, an Iranian-Canadian scholar, has added one more book to this genre. The Clash of Intolerences, in many ways, is similar to Amartya Sen’s Agumentative Indian, where Sen had tried to recall the Hindu past and present it as essentially one that celebrated pluralism and sought to present the culture of intolerance as a modern aberration. Jahanbegloo’s book and the thrust of his argument suffer from a similar problem.

The limitations of recalling the past and its glory, even if it is done for a noble purpose, are too glaring to be glossed over. The point is that such attempts to invent a glorious past is a means that the war mongers and the forces of status quo find immense use to preserve themselves and against the forces of change. A case in point being the increasing resort to the idiom of religion in India during the past couple of decades and inventing the ``other’’ in Pakistan as opposed to the radical attempt to unite the masses against poverty, unemployment and falling standards of life.

The experience in Iran in 1979, when the popular discontent against the Shah and his pro-American regime was made use of by the clergy, in the name of Allah, to perpetuate the un-democratic order, persecute the radicals, the Khurdish people and the poor was no different. And the US invasion into Afghanistan and Iraq too were ordered in the name of God. Samuel Huntington simply explained this, as the shape of things to come, in his Clash of Civilizations.

Huntington refused to call the US a rogue state. But Noam Chomsky did that and explained the use of the phrase as states that do not feel bound by international norms. The fact is that 9/11 provided a handle for the US regime to invade nations and create a spectre that the Islamic regimes are a threat to the modern world. And in the process wipe out from the minds of the thinking people the fact that the violent regimes were, in fact, the creation of past US policy. Islam, in fact, served the US interests in the past and this fact of history too is sought to be obliterated.

Jahanbegloo’s book steers clear of all this and instead seeks to plead for a pro-active role for scholars and clerics to re-invent Islam as full of compassion. The issue is that compassion is abundant in not just Islam but in all the religious texts if we look for it. Take for instance the Buddhist legacy; and the fact that monks from various monasteries were there, physically, to kill and wound the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka at various points of time since 1956.

Or the fact that the Taliban, once again in the name of religion, set up explosives to destroy the massive sculptures of Buddha in Afghanistan and also denied the ordinary rights to the women in that country. All that in the name of God and religion.

All this are in the form of pointing out the shortcomings, in some way, in the book under review. There is no denial that Jahanbegloo’s book, intense in its scholarship and meticulous in terms of citing experiences from the past as well as a narrative of the pluralistic traditions within Islam, is a useful addition. It should help argue against the constructed notion that is being peddled that Islam, inherently, sanctions intolerance.