Governance Now Visionary Talks Series

ISIS and lessons in multiculturalism

In a changing, maturing India, where stability and progress trump other considerations, zero tolerance for communal drum-beating is all the more important

rupali

Rupali Mehra | April 16, 2015


#isis   #islamic state   #syria   #islamic state killings   #islamic state hostages  

When the Bamian Buddhas came crashing down like an avalanche, the first person I called was my maternal grandfather. On deputation to the Kabul press in the 1960s, he was lucky to have seen the imposing sixth century monolithic statues that stood guard on the edge of the Bamian valley. He often told us gripping stories of his time in Afghanistan and through his eyes we saw a once flourishing civilisation.

In 2001 the Taliban ensured no one else could experience these treasures and bring them home to their grandchildren. There was no story left to tell.

Fourteen years later the ISIS has taken the cue. Armed with sledge hammers, drills, explosives and guns they have powdered to dust what a rich, ancient society had painstakingly built 3,000 years ago.

When the ISIS released a video showing extremists smashing the giant statues of the Assyrian deity Lamassu, drilling into the 13th century BC alabaster reliefs, reducing the ancient city of Nimrud to rubble, even the gods must have shed tears.

The UN has called the destruction a war crime. Indeed, it is nothing less. What the jihadists have done is an annihilation of a civilisation, a murder of humanity.

But such cultural terrorism is a lesson in disguise. It poses a serious question across countries and cultures. Can we give self-styled custodians of faith and culture a free hand till the effects of their chauvinism are beyond our control?

This week a regional party, the Shiv Sena, called for disenfranchising Muslims –incidentally, 14% of our nation's population. Their outlandish proposal was a kneejerk reaction to another venom-spewing regional player, the Owaisi brothers, who've dared the Sena chief to step into their supposed bastion Hyderabad. 

It’s clear both are desperately trying to cling onto the last straws of political relevance. But this is not a one-off case. In recent months there have been sporadic incidents of cultural, regional and religious bullying, signaling a worrying trend.

Thankfully, and rightly so, the courts have ordered a complaint against both parties for hurting religious sentiments. But citizens too must voice disapproval through voice and vote, instead of being swayed by the noise.

Whether cultural conservatives like it or not, the fact is multiculturalism is seeped in our tradition and modernity. Be it our movies, where a Khan plays a Shyam and an Amitabh plays an Anthony with equal ease. Or our heritage, where monuments like the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur and the Bara Imambara of Lucknow are a testimony to a fusion of Rajput and Mughal architecture. Or the fact that KJ Yesudas, a Christian, sings devotional songs of Saraswati at temples – multiculturalism is in our DNA.

In a changing, maturing India, where stability and progress trump other considerations, zero tolerance for communal drum-beating is all the more important.

While we condemn the cultural and religious intolerance in other countries, let’s not forget our own dark chapter in post-independence India – the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir issue. Two decades later, those scars remain and remind us that we cannot ever again allow vested interests to change the complexion of our multicultural democracy.

Otherwise, what happens when radicals gain ground and call the shots is being played out, just 2,000 miles away. Their people will soon have no heritage to speak of, no culture to carry forward, and no story to tell their future generations, except of death and destruction.
 

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