& occasionally about other things, too...

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

It doesn't matter...& it shouldn't

I find it mildly astonishing the fervency with which people wear their beliefs on their social media platforms.

Having come from a fairly cosmopolitan, egalitarian and agnostic background I have an inherent diffidence to deal with people who openly ascertain their identity in religious terms.

It is not that these people are uncritical or unthinking in their beliefs. On the contrary, many of them are critical about the many religious practices.

They openly and repeatedly draw attention to shortfalls of the practitioners of their religion, going even to the extent of incisively arguing against the dogmas of their religion.

And yet, I feel extremely uneasy when someone uses religion as the basis of one’s identity. It’s indecent, jarring, and impolite.

I see AR Rahman as a great composer, and Muhammad Ali as an iconic sportsman, who defined an era. 

It doesn't normally occur to me to associate them with a particular religion (even while not denying them their religious identity). 

I'm quite at odds to deal with people who see Rehman and Ali as Muslims first and then as a composer and a sportsman. 

I believe that understanding religion – one’s own and those of others – is an evolutionary process that acquires a degree of depth which I think comes only from appreciating the values of secularism.

Although, Akeel Bilgrami in his essay Secularism: Its Content and Context (written in response to Charles Taylor’s Age of Secularism) claims that, “Secularism as a political doctrine arose to repair what were perceived as damages that flowed from historical harms that were, in turn, perceived as owing, in some broad sense, to religion.”

I have noticed that this pernicious tendency to wear one’s religion on one’s sleeve – although always carefully couching it in unobtrusive language of reason – is more prevalent among the immigrants.

Perhaps it is because of the feeling of being uprooted, being adrift that makes the immigrants more defensive and vulnerable, and perhaps taking shelter behind the religious identity gives them a modicum of psychological security.

I wouldn’t care about their ‘either-you’re-with-me-or-against-me’ variety of posturing too much but social media makes these proclamations so in-your-face. 

Camouflaged beneath layers of self-righteous indignation is a very palpable sense of injustice. 

It is obvious that my social media friends feel that such incidents adversely portray their religion (whether Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or any other) in an alien land, and it becomes their bounden duty to rectify the erroneous perceptions that ‘others’ may harbour about their religion.

In Argumentative Indian, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen vividly describes this tendency; and although it is explained with reference to Indians and Hindutva, it’s equally applicable to other South Asian nationalities and religions.

“...What should the Indian diaspora be proud of? This is not a hard question to answer, given the breadth and richness of Indian civilization. Nevertheless, the subject has become something of a battleground in recent years. Indeed, the rather combative line of exclusionary thinking that the Hindutva movement has sponsored and championed has made strong inroads into the perceptions of the Indian diaspora. There has been a systematic effort to encourage non-resident Indians of Hindu background to identify themselves, not primarily as ‘Indians’, but particularly as ‘Hindus’ (or, at least, to see themselves as Indians within a Hinduized conception)....

“As it happens, sectarian and fundamentalist ideas of different religions often do get enthusiastic support from emigrants, who aggressively play up the value of what they identify as their ‘own traditions’ as they find themselves engulfed in a dominant foreign culture abroad...

“There is a desire for national or cultural pride, but some uncertainty about what to take pride in. In this context, it is particularly important to look at the traditions of India in all their spaciousness – not artificially narrowed in sectarian lines. Indeed, within the Hindu tradition itself, there is surely much reason for pride in the reach and open-mindedness of the broad and capacious reading of the Hindu perspective, without a confrontational approach to other faiths. That perspective is radically different from the downsized Hinduism that tends to receive the patronage of the Hindutva movement.

“...Indians of any background should have reason enough to celebrate their historical or cultural association with (to consider a variety of examples) Nagarjuna’s penetrating philosophical arguments, Harsa’s philanthropic leadership, Maitreyi’s or Gargi’s searching questions, Carvaka’s reasoned skepticism  Aryabhata’s astronomical and mathematical departures, Kalidasa’s dazzling poetry, Sudraka’s subversive drama, Abul Fazl’s astounding scholarship, Shah Jahan’s aesthetic vision, Ramanujan’s mathematics, or Ravi Shankar’s and Ali Akbar Khan’s music, without first having to check the religious background of each.”

Rahman: http://twitter.com/arrahman
Ali: http://ipaintmymind.org/art/aaron-almendral-of-artbydna-ipmm-exclusive-interview/

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