Friday 25 November 2005

Religious Supremacists (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Thanks to the extraordinary burst of innovation and enterprise created in the countries of Western Europe during the previous five centuries, the world came under their tutelage. However, those from the region who lacked the characteristics of rationality, resourcefulness and drive that resulted in the west leading the world fell back on the absence of skin pigment to distinguish themselves as superior from the rest of humanity. In this, they were merely following an ancient precedent. For example, the very Sanskrit word for India's 4,000-year old tradition of caste is "varna," meaning: color. Indeed, the Slavic peoples used this characteristic to name the lands in which they resided. Thus, "Russia" means "Land of the Blonde" while "Belarus" goes even further, signifying the "Land of the White Blonds." Small wonder that notions of racial supremacy grew in Western Europe, sometimes even crossing the bounds of color, as for example in much of the European continent during the period when those belonging to the Jewish faith were discriminated against and finally, sought to be eliminated altogether. The Holocaust has been the vilest depth in human history of a deformed social consciousness that survived in the modern era in locations such as the segregated south of the U.S., and countries such as South Africa, where "racial supremacy" was the norm.
Today, neither does segregation exist in the U.S. nor apartheid in South Africa. The notion of racial supremacy has become an international outcast, even though sporadic manifestations of old attitudes linger, as for example in the recent German political formulation, "Kinder statt Inder," which implied that people coming from India were less than human. However, in practically all of western societies, discrimination based on color has practically disappeared, even though there are occasional "glass ceilings" that limit the upward mobility of those with a higher level of cutaneous pigment. Once identified, these are pulled down. The result has been that in advanced western societies such as the U.S. and Israel, those whose ethnicity comes from India have frequently bested others from locations in Europe.While "Race Supremacists" have been under attack from the civilized world, and are either extinct or on the defensive, another brand of hate crime flourishes undisturbed, even in countries that are the allies of the West. This is "Religious Supremacy," the belief that those practicing a particular faith have the same "right" to discriminate against others that "White Supremacists" in the past saw as their God-given privilege to consign the rest to a permanently inferior status. In states governed by religious supremacists, those belonging to other faiths lack the freedoms enjoyed by the privileged. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, those who do not belong to the Wahabbi creed lack the elemental right to build their own houses of worship and to openly pray in them. There are mosques in Israel and the U.S. that have Wahabbist elements in them, but no trace of a synagogue or even a church in Saudi Arabia. In another such country, Pakistan, the legal and electoral system itself discriminates against minorities. While in the past color was the engine of injustice, these days it is creed. What is taking place in countries that discriminate against minorities is as vile as what was seen - and demolished - in the segregated U.S. south or in apartheid-era South Africa.
Indeed, while the United Nations General Assembly has several times discussed apartheid and racism in general, it has thus far been as silent as western and other chancelleries in identifying the discrimination and segregation that takes place in "religious supremacist" countries. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, those who are Shiite, non-Wahabbi Sunni, non-Muslim or women suffer severe discrimination, and are denied the rights that are given to adherents of the Wahabbi creed, who alone are permitted to set up houses of worship and who are given preferential treatment in several ways. This is a "hate crime" as noxious in its logic and effects as racial segregation. Indeed, in that particular country, even Wahabbis do not yet have the right to vote. The entire authority within the state adheres -- naturally -- to close relatives of the founder of the Saudi faith, Abdul Ibn Wahhab. While Khomeinism in Iran is a close cousin of Wahabbism in its world-view, there are Sunni houses of worship in Iran, and even a few synagogues, although in other respects the two countries are alike. In both, an unelected group controls the government, and bases this usurpation of power from the hands of the people on religious grounds. Indeed, Khomeinism is as much a perversion of Shiite Islam as Wahabbism is of Sunni Islam. 
Wahabbi and Khomeinist practitioners of religious supremacy claim that their practices are based entirely on those followed by the Prophet Mohammad. The reality is that they have, in their lifestyles and culture, deviated significantly from the austere mores of the Prophet of true Islam. Were these neo-segregationists true to their own tenets, they would abstain from the use of the telephone, modern transportation and any other device or system that was not in vogue during the time of the Prophet Mohammad. Instead, these individuals follow the most sybaritic of lifestyles. This writer has seen Saudi prince lings in Munich, Germany, picking up schoolgirls outside their classrooms thanks to the attraction of their fast cars and obvious riches. Just as a woman cannot be half-pregnant, it is not theologically possible to be a semi-Wahabbi. Either one accepts the need to follow the lifestyles and systems that were extant during the time of the Prophet Mohammad, or one recognizes the desirability of joining the civilized world by abandoning discrimination and prejudice against those of other faiths. In no part of the world can the denial of religious, political and social rights to segments of the population that follow a different creed be condoned. Unfortunately, in several countries, there is blatant discrimination against such elements. What is surprising is why the civilized world has yet to act against such powers, the way they did against those that practiced racial segregation and oppression. 

Today, a country such as Saudi Arabia is as much guilty of the transgression of fundamental human values and rights as South Africa was during the period of apartheid. In case Wahabbis regard it as their God-given right to deprive others of human rights and freedoms, then the solution is for them to retreat to an enclave and practice their quaint faith apart from the rest of humanity, in the way that the Amish do in the U.S.N90 country should be allowed to deny human beings the freedom to choose their faiths and thereafter to follow them, provided that the method of doing so does not entail the use of violence or discrimination against others. Israel has often been condemned by the Khomeinists and the Wahabbists. The state is not perfect, and within the majority there exist elements that have a worldview similar to that of the Wahabbis or the Khomeinists. But such extremists are a tiny miniority, unable to prevent the rest from giving Muslim and Christian Israelis the same political and other rights enjoyed by those practicing the Jewish faith. That is the difference between a democracy and a "religious supremacist" state. Or take another example, dozens of Hindu temples have been destroyed in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but this has been met by silence, in contrast to the continuing clamor against the pulling down of a disused mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. Such a double standard needs to be eliminated. Whether Wahabbi or Israeli, Hindu or Khomeinist, all need to be heldaccountable so as to ensure that the rights of all human beings gets respected. The world has practically succeeded in abolishing races supremacy. Now the need is to wage the same battle against its twin, religious supremacy.
-(M. .D Nalapat is Professor of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India)

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