Teach history of ideas, world history of religions!

The recent Mumbai blasts that took such a heavy toll, 8 bombs in 30 minutes, killing 200  people and injuring 500 more, is only the latest reminder, if reminder is needed, for the need for the society at large to deeply introspect on so many ills that make our life so insecure and disturbing. Yes, we are making material progress, making lots of money, the Indian middle class that is vocal and opinion-making and gives a more confident outlook. That is all very encouraging and gives hope.

Yet, what makes for such repeated violence, terrorism of a worst kind that grips the country. There is a commentary the next day of the blasts on why the terrorist attack.” Fallout of city’s extreme politics?” runs the headlines. Then we find that there is indeed such a background to the eruption of the serial blasts. Mumbai’s politics has all the unsavory character we associate with extremist politics.

The Shiv Sena on the one side and the Muslim reactionary forces on the other. The Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thakeray had asserted that after six hours of rampage by his men” Those who think that they can provoke us had the fitting reply” He said his party could hit back at people who provoke them.

The news write-up then gives graphic account of the series of blasts from Bhiwandi and how a Samajwadi boss triggered it for the simple reason to resurrect the Muslim vote back. The story of course goes back to the 1993 Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya by the Sangh Parivar elements. So as an answer to this came the series of blats in 1993 in Mumbai, which left 275 dead, RDX use, the retaliatory syndrome continued and continues, it seems. Godhra riots, Best bus bomb in 2002, the list is long, and terrible.

The terrorist outfits named, what is worrying is the fact that these origins of violence starts at the Academies and religious schools of thought. These schools of religious thoughts often, it is noted, turn out illiterates!

Yes, this is no monopoly of one religion. Some of the other religions, Hinduist elements are not excluded, have some irrational views and beliefs about what religions teach. What Hinduism is truly? That itself needs more in-depth debate. Readers of this magazine know (see the Essay page in this issue) that we believe in a more enlightened, open-minded debate of issues of basic importance of man and mankind. There can’t anymore room in this era of globalization, any room for dogmatism in matters of religious and secular thoughts. We ourselves have risen many times in these pages the need for understanding what is secular and what is not.

There is a famous line from Blaise Pascal: Two extravagances: to exclude Reason, to admit only Reason”.

Faith plays a critical role in the life of man. Religion has a place in our lives. But even today we see many religious manifestations of an undesirable kind. So many new age god men sprouting everywhere, some serious, some plain cheats and yet all try to claim monopoly for their wisdom. This can’t be acceptable to a modern society, to any civilized society.

Terrorism is only another manifestation of a highly motivated irrationalism. Irrationalism can take many bizarre forms. Hitler was only an extreme phenomenon. Pope Benedict XVI is from Germany, had served in the Hitler army. He must know the havoc extreme nationalisms can cause to societies even today. Sensitivities in some European countries are still high, very as in other parts of the world.

In India too, religious nationalisms, etc and language chauvinisms are causing new types of extremisms. These spill over invariably into the current politics!
So, any religion, like the famous Socratic saying, any life that is unexamined, is not worth living. Worth believing in. So, we are allergic to any religious foundation that conducts courses in education, values in education etc! We wonder: what would be the effect on the believers. Believers in uncritical god men’s benedictions!

Yes, there can’t be any monopoly of thought for any nation, anymore. The common heritage of mankind is to inherit the entire knowledge as it evolved over the years, from the ancient times to the present day. Even the assumed big debate about the West and non-West is eroded after Edward Said’s famous essay on “Orientalism”. The great caravan of knowledge traveled from unsuspected regions, in Morocco, in the desert land, some 70 km of Timbuktu, there is a famous series of libraries that preserve manuscripts in Arabic language that were taken to Constantinople and then translated from Arabic to Latin and that was how the Italian Renaissance came through. So, the Western heritage is very much a heritage from the Orientalist wisdom.

Today the divide between the West and the Muslim world can be bridged if the world leaders take steps to revamp our education, culture and culture domination through universities and through the media channels to emphasize the common heritage of mankind.

The teaching of religions and morals, ethics and much of culture teaching must emphasis the importance of toleration, moderation and an emphasis on democracy. Even the concept of democracy must be carefully advanced. The G-8 meeting in St.Petersburg was supposed to give Russia a lesson in spreading democracy in Russia. That is resented by the Russian President, Putin. Rightly. We have to see other countries not through US eyes. USA needs to expand its friendship with other countries. Rightly the world sees France and Germany as more balanced today than ever when it comes to a more equal world.

Americans must not preach, impose their narrow viewpoints. There is much cruelty and much narrow approach to freedoms in America. In the more Western European nations, individual freedoms are more valued. In Russia, parties are emerging, local government is emerging and we have to give more time, as the Russian President had emphasized.

In India, we have to call upon the religious managements of schools and colleges and others to give more value for teaching the history of ideas and history of world religions. Play down the narrow, secretive agendas of preaching only one religion. The days of preaching one religion, the dominant religion is over. We can’t take the dominant religion’s role any more in a multi-polar, multicultural world.

Let the Hindu religious heads, also the minority religious heads give some thought to how to lesson the extremisms in our political arena in our social and religious arena.

A much more Western, liberal and more open-minded approach to understand the evolution of modern ideas, sciences, humanities, more languages in our education curriculum is the crying need of the day.

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