Photograph of Anil Chawla

Indian and Hindu Perspective on Charlie Hebdo and Related Matters

Author - Anil Chawla

About four decades ago I had gone through the torturous PH 101, the first physics course at IIT Bombay. During the course I learnt that there is no such thing as objective truth. Even a simple statement like this chair is stationary (or moving) is true or false depending on the frame of reference that one chooses. A chair that appears to me stationary will appear to be moving when viewed from moon. In due course, this lesson about a frame of reference defining perspective and reality has become a part of my intellectual grounding.

When terrorists invaded the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, reactions and comments were flowing from all directions. For the Muslim fundamentalists / Taliban sympathizers / Islamic expansionists, the invading men were brave soldiers of Allah. For most of Europe and America, the invaders were horrible beasts who were out to destroy their great civilization. Both sides put out their viewpoint with such passion and logical arguments that it was difficult to refute either. Surely, both sides are talking from different frames of reference.

Before I try to look at the picture, it is necessary for me to define my own frame of reference. I am not a Muslim and am, certainly, not a sympathizer of Taliban. My parents’ families became refugees when they had to run away from their houses in the middle of a dark night in August 1947 after they refused to convert to Islam. So, while sometimes I might get into the shoes of my Muslim friends to understand their views, I cannot undo the long history engrained in my mind about sufferings caused by rabid Islamic zealots.

On the other hand, I am also deeply aware of the deep scars that my country and the world at large have suffered at the hands of colonialists and imperialists. I know that much of the talk of freedom, free trade, human dignity, and free speech is has meaning only in a limited context. For those who have suffered at the hands of imperial powers, the lofty words are like advertising copy written to fool the gullible. The people who fought wars to enforce the right of free trade (read, the right to sell opium) in China refuse to give the same right to my countrymen when we want to sell marijuana in their countries. The ones who cry hoarse about crimes committed by Hitler in Germany fall silent the moment one talks of Bengal Famine created by British in India. No history textbook in Europe or America or even India talks about genocide of natives across the world, inquisitions, witch-hunting, and slavery.

Logo of Charlie Hebdo

For all the Europeans who are taking the moral high ground in condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo, there are Muslim speakers giving some instance or the other about thousands killed due to actions by the rich and the powerful of Europe in either Africa or Asia during the past two centuries. No, I do not intend to get into the ongoing debate between the two sides. Probably, both are equally right and equally wrong.

Let me look at the situation from my own frame of reference. There are two frames of references that I can relate to. The first frame of reference is the Indian one and the second is the Hindu religion’s perspective.

Let us start with the Indian view. During the past more than one thousand years, India has suffered attacks from both, the Muslim invaders and the European ones. Even today, India is neither off the target of Muslim expansionists nor of flag-bearers of European imperialism - the Christian missionaries.

Pakistan, whose army and rulers continue to nurture the dream of ruling over whole of India, draw strength from and extend open support to Muslim imperialism. All their missiles and major weapon systems are named after the looters from West Asia who had invaded India. Pakistan’s existence is founded on the principle that religion of Islam defines nationhood. India’s secular existence is a threat to the principle on which Pakistan stands. If Pakistan were to give up all connections with political Islam, the country’s raison d’être will come under threat. Pakistan, hence, is bound to continue to support every organization that supports political Islam or Muslim imperialism. If India has to survive as a secular country, she must oppose and seek to root out the ideology that Pakistan is founded upon – the two-nation theory, which considers Muslim religion as a basis of nationhood. This is a war that has been thrust upon India from the day of her independence. India has no option but to fight the war. The enemy is ruthless and believes in killing by thousand cuts. Not a week passes without India suffering some small cut here and there. India is surely a frontline defending state in the war being waged by political Islam and Muslim expansionism.

It is important at this point to clarify that I do see the difference between non-political Islam and political Islam. There is no denying that millions of Muslims whether in India or Pakistan or any other country do not support the expansionist tendencies of Islam. The unfortunate part is that these non-political Muslims are voiceless, faceless, docile creatures who make practically no efforts to stand up to the expansionist ambitions of the political Islam. Most of them are not averse to enjoying the fruits of victory of political Islam. Though, of course, at all times (except when trying to grab a share of the fruits) they do not tire of announcing how they want to live peacefully and how the expansionists / militants / rioters / Taliban do not represent them. These so-called peace-loving non-political Muslims are, for all practical purposes, irrelevant and immaterial. Surely, there is no reason to harm them. At the same time, there is no reason for them to be considered as representatives of Islam. Often, Islamic expansionists, use them as human shields when faced by a harsh attack as well as in intellectual discussions. It is important that those waging war against political Islam do not get fooled by these tricks of the Islamic expansionists.

In contrast with the situation in Muslim countries, there is a clear schism in the western world (Europe and Americas) with both sides having a significant voice. On one side of the divide there are the Christian fanatics including various types of missionaries and evangelists. On the other side, there is a significant population which refuses to be controlled by Church or by any Holy Book. In most western countries, it appears that the former are a minority though a significantly large one. The majority consists of the latter who are influenced by science and want to take key decisions of life based on their own understanding of right and wrong. For the sake of convenience, let us call one group Churchists and the other group Liberals.

As an Indian observer, I have learnt to differentiate between Churchists and Liberals. The two have a tense but largely peaceful relationship. Both keep trying to influence the polity in their own direction, but never cross some invisible lines. So, there is a strong push-pull about whether creationism / evolution should be taught in schools; whether abortion should be permitted; and so on. But, there is near consensus (tacit) about not making fun of Bible or Jesus or Church and also about not raking up the dark chapters of Christian history. By such means of laying down the points of dispute and also points on which dispute is to be avoided, the western society has managed peaceful co-existence among the two sharply opposed sections.

One point of consensus among Churchists and Liberals is their opposition to Islamic expansionists. Both cannot tolerate the strict regime that Islamists try to impose. Liberals should have, theoretically speaking, established links with the voiceless, faceless, docile non-political Muslim population. Unfortunately, Liberals have failed to establish any such connection worth talking about. The fault, surely, lies on both sides. However, it is not for us to discuss that aspect.

The overall scenario can thus be summed up as consisting of three sides – Churchists, Liberals and Islamic Expansionists. There is absolutely no love between the three. However, there are unwritten rules of peaceful co-existence that have developed between Churchists and Liberals. For example, Charlie Hebdo, a Liberal magazine clearly knew where to draw the line when it came to ridiculing Jesus or Bible. The said unwritten rules, obviously, do not apply to relations with Islam or Islamists. It will not be an exaggeration to say that a tacit pact has evolved over the years between Liberals and Churchists; and now the two stand together to face up to Islamic expansionists.

Attack on Twin Towers in New York

Islamic expansionists, by their actions soaked in blood, have actually played a very big role in bringing the two together. Attack on twin towers (9/11) did more to unite the people of USA than anything in recent history. Similarly, the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 has forced Europe to sink its differences and stand together.

The resolve that Europe and Americas are displaying against Islamic expansionists is indeed heartening for us Indians. For almost a century, we had been watching with horror and dismay the way western world was actually encouraging Islamic expansionism. A generation of short-sighted liberals, who looked at all religions as equally dirty and equally bad, found nothing particularly obnoxious about political Islam. They had grown up studying science, engineering, economics etc. but knew history only to the extent of the sanitized religion-free version taught in schools. They were the ones responsible for encouraging the birth of Pakistan in the name of strategic interests. They are still the ones responsible for giving liberal aid to Pakistan. Future generations will wonder at the stupidity that befell some of the most intelligent and educated people of twentieth century.

While we, Indians, were surely saddened by the bloodbath by terrorists in Paris or New York, we are glad about the net effect of this action. We are happy that Europe and America now understand and appreciate the war that we have been fighting for so long. We hope that they will stand with us in the war as brothers-in-arms.

When Europe and America come to us, we must understand that they come here not to help us, but with their own agendas. Churchists want to reap a “crop of souls” and shore up the falling numbers in various churches. Liberals dislike religion but can do little to harm the Church in Europe and America. In India (and much of Asia), the Liberals are glad to harm and demolish native religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism etc.) and ready the field for Churchists. In this way, the two collaborate. Of course, the two are in unison when it comes to economic interests. Both gladly joined hands to wage a war to sell opium in China, and both oppose sale of narcotic drugs in Europe and Americas. Obviously, lure of money is more powerful than Jesus, truth and all other ideologies combined.

We, Indians, need to beware of both the Churchists and the so-called Liberals. We need to remain focused on our own needs, aspirations and problems. There is no doubt that we must not push ourselves into a corner. We must engage with the west on our own terms.

The second frame of reference that I understand is the Hindu religion’s perspective. Hinduism is the largest pagan religion in the world today. In terms of numbers, Hindus constitute the third largest religious group in the world. Hindus have never proselytized. If one looks at the history of Europe, Americas, Oceania and Africa, one finds that neither Christianity nor Islam had any significant presence in any of the continents just one thousand years ago. Spread of both Islam and Christianity has been achieved either by bloodbaths (as in case of Christianity in Europe, Oceania and Americas) or by use of a combination of money and force (as in case of Christianity in Africa and Asia; and as in case of Islam in Asia and Africa) or by migration (as in case of Islam in Europe). The pre-Christianity and pre-Islamic religions (called pagan or native religions by Judaic religions) of almost every part of the world bear a strong similarity to the surviving pagan religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism etc.

During the past century, with the rise of science and liberal thought, there has been significant decline in the grip of Judaic religions. The on-going fights of Churchists and Liberals versus Islamic Expansionists as well as the internal fights of Islamic Expansionists are becoming bloodier by the day. The attack on Charlie Hebdo (as well as the cartoons published by the magazine) is a part of the fight that has been going on for too long.

As blood continues to flow and heads continue to roll, the capacity of Judaic religions to enforce their writ keeps falling. With the decline of Judaic religions, the pagan or native religions of Europe and other parts of the world may see a revival. As a Hindu, I watch these developments with interest. I do not predict the future. But, surely Hindus and pagans have moved past the days when they were tortured during inquisitions or killed en masse by invading armies in India or Iran or Europe. It is not yet time for Hindus and pagans to celebrate. But, we can already smell the dawn. We have waited for many centuries; we can wait for half or one century more.

22 January 2015

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer and a lawyer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a legal and management consultant by profession.

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