The perils of self-righteousness

Where righteousness rules, whose rule is right?  To those infused with self-righteousness, whether in the name of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Nazism, Bolshevism, Maoism or whatever, all non-conformists are deviants, always despised, often oppressed and sometimes killed. 

(Published in Daily Times, 1 August 2012)

In another public spectacle befitting a country created in the name of Islam, a Pakistani Hindu boy has been converted to Islam live over prime-time TV. While this will certainly boost the rating of the channel which pulled off this holy coup in the sacred month of Ramazan, we all know what it does to Pakistan’s rating in the comity of nations.  Never mind the question of minority rights in Pakistan and elsewhere.  But do religious zealots care?

About the same time, in a “shocking instance of moral policing” in India, about 50 activists of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV) physically attacked young people partying at a resort on Mangalore’s outskirts. Some years ago, the Chief Minister of Gujrat allowed Hindu mobs to “teach Muslims a lesson”, leading to thousands being killed. Before that, in 1984, thousands of Sikhs were lynched, burned or beaten by Hindu gangs to put them in their proper place. 

Elsewhere, Jewish settlers terrorize Palestinians in their own land, Buddhist extremists are expelling Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Christian fundamentalism, among other things, has led to the burning of the Quran in public by a pastor in the United States.

Where righteousness rules, whose rule is right?  To those infused with self-righteousness, whether in the name of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Nazism, Bolshevism, Maoism or whatever, all non-conformists are deviants, always despised, often oppressed and sometimes killed.  But while self-righteousness of the secular kind is on the wane, if not altogether dead, religious self-righteousness is on the rise and taking into its grip more and more countries. But, in sheer intensity, sweep and destructive power, nothing compares to the tide of Islamic fundamentalism now gripping Muslim countries. 

Some years ago, the Afghan Taliban destroyed the famous Buddha statues of Bamyan.  The world begged them not to, but they blew up the statues with explosives nonetheless.  Their forefathers had cleansed Afghanistan of “infidels” centuries ago.  They were now finishing the job by ridding the country of all remnants of polytheism, no matter if the object in question was listed as a “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO.  They and their ilk now control parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and Mali, and threaten to do so in a few other countries, most notably Nigeria.

Having made short shrift of “infidels” through pogroms, expulsions, conversions or subjugation, Muslim religious righteousness has turned inwards, mutating into a sectarian monster in the name of religious purity. Recently, Islamic militants belonging to the Ansar Dine group have destroyed or damaged several Muslim shrines in the famed city of Timbuktu in Mali, including a 15th century mosque. The group’s spokesman said that his movement had now completed nearly 90% of its objective to destroy all shrines that don’t conform to Sharia.

Many Sufi shrines and mosques have been destroyed or desecrated by the Taliban in Pakistan and by their brother Salafists in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.  Shi’as are being killed indiscriminately throughout Pakistan.  Ahmadis are being persecuted even after death. In Jaranwala, clerics want to dig out the corpse of an Ahmadi from the Muslim graveyard as he is a “non-Muslim”.  It is hardly surprising, for separate burial grounds for different religions is accepted practice everywhere. 

Adherents of all religions speak of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, but they can’t even share the same graveyard, not even the so-called “people of the book.”  One can’t help but wonder what religious scholars mean when they claim that their religion represents humanity and promotes harmony, peace and tolerance.

It is claimed that religions provide a moral guide for humanity.  But on the balance of evidence, it would appear that all religions have been barely successful in controlling man’s worst instincts.   Good people do good regardless of which religion they adhere to or to none at all, while there is no dearth of people who are bad irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Religious differences continue to cause discrimination, oppression, violence and riots throughout the world, as they have done for centuries.  I need no reminding that ethnic, tribal and racial differences have caused similar tragedies.  One needs to go no further than Rwanda (1994) and Bangladesh (1971) to see this.  However, I should point out that in Rwanda both perpetrators and victims were Christians, while in Bangladesh, they were Muslims.  Even if religious beliefs did not cause the killings, they did nothing to prevent or stop them.

While it is obvious that no-one should be discriminated against or despised, let alone killed, for their ethnicity, race or religion, religiously-driven riots and pogroms are by far the hardest to understand or condone.  For one, all religions are belief-systems which loudly proclaim peace, harmony, tolerance and the sanctity of human life.  Secondly, among a person’s various identities, his religious affiliation is the most superficial, flimsy and tenuous.

A person cannot change his race or ethnicity, both of which are the result of many decades and centuries of heritage and evolution.  His race and ethnicity are revealed the moment he steps out of his home or opens his mouth.  But, while ethnicity and race are nearly impossible to conceal, a person’s religious identity is not revealed except if he chooses to announce it, through utterances and rituals as well as dress and get-up (e.g. turban, bangle, beard, skullcap, prayer cap, cross, tilak/bindi, hijab, burqa).  In theory, a person may change his religion overnight and as often as one wants.  In practice, conversions happen often and members of one family can belong to different faiths.

And yet, religious prejudices and animosities are commonplace and widespread.  Many are willing to renounce their children or parents, separate from their spouses, abandon their family and detach from their community on account of their adherence or conversion to a particular religion or sect.  Some are ready to kill and be killed.

When a religious zealot succeeds in converting someone to his own faith, he essentially destroys that person’s family life, relationships and social connections.  Would it not be better for everyone to leave others alone as far as their faith is concerned and instead focus on the things that affect, unite and bind us all as human beings? 

By Razi Azmi


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4 Responses to The perils of self-righteousness

  1. Pradeep Kalra says:

    It is indeed a pity that this day and age these sort of things happen.Religion is a personal matter and no religion is better than the other yet people have this belief that their religion is better than other religions.Well one can only hope that these righteous people focus on presenting themselves in a manner which brings in peace and harmony in these troubled times.Another good one Mr Azmi.

  2. PK says:

    Some thing to ponder upon on a Sufi utterance .*

    Beaker or flagon, or bowl or jar,
    Clumsy or slender, coarse or fine;
    However the potter may make or mar,
    All were made to contain the wine:
    Should we this one seek or that one shun
    When the wine which gives them their worth is one?

    * Translation of Professor Browne of Cambridge circa 1915, Cited by Sarvapalli .Radhakrisnan, UPTON lectures delivered at Manchester College, Oxford, 1926

  3. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    Razi Sahib, you have rightly pointed out that “It is claimed that religions provide a moral guide for humanity.” But it seems the opposite happens in real life. In our religious, ethnic and class biases we forget that those different from us are human beings. Unless the lesson of humanity is not learned we will keep doing what we see happening the world over on different excuses.
    It is indeed sad.

  4. Mallik says:

    Another unbiased piece of writing from Dr Azmi. He has the uncanny gift to put in words what many of us think. Well done!

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