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Rajmohan Gandhi

Twenty years before he was assassinated, my grandfather Gandhi said he preferred the phrase ‘Truth is God’ to the phrase ‘God is Truth’ because although many people had been killed in the name of God, nobody had been killed in the name of truth.

Gandhi was the target of religious extremists, once on 20 January 1948 when an unsuccessful attempt was made on his life by a Hindu who took exception to his friendly overtures to Muslims. Yet, after this violent incident Gandhi said: ‘You should not have any kind of hate against the person who was responsible for this. He took it for granted that I was an enemy of Hinduism.’

He successfully contested the advocates of hate and violence (whether against the British or between Hindus and Muslims) and sidelined them for over 60 years. Yet he was assassinated by one of those very extremists whom he had been trying to win over to the paths of peace and understanding.

Today the problem of violent extremists remains a large reality in the world. But there are other realities too: economic misery, AIDS and other diseases, the ravages of climate change and environmental degradation, war and oppression.

There are also many signs of hope and renewed dialogue across critical global divides. This is especially important in the case of the divide between the so-called Western world and the so-called Islamic world.

If Gandhi were alive today, I think he would caution the world against falling into the temptation of believing that one faith community out of all is uniquely fallen, uniquely infected, uniquely dangerous to the rest.

Can peace-building be reconciled with the notion of one flawed religion, race or community?

In our era of an apparent clash of civilizations, many in the democratic world see the populations of Muslim lands as flawed, even while good relations are maintained in many cases with their rulers, who are viewed as people with whom business can be done.

Many influential people in the USA and Europe equate terrorism with Islam and believe that terrorism and Islam are strongly inter-related.

Such thinking in parts of the West has its counterpart in much of the Islamic world, which has seen persistent negative propaganda about Christians and the crusades, Jews and Zionism, and Americans and Europeans.

The result is people-to-people distrust leading to people-to-people enmity.

The hostilities of 1914-1918 and 1935-45 were called world wars, but any Islam versus the Rest war today would be a world war in a much more comprehensive and diffuse sense. And it will be a people-against-people, civilian-against-civilian war.

Muslim Children Also Play

When, as often happens, I hear the argument about the flawed nature of Islam, I recall the faces and lives of Muslims I have known. I recall images of Muslims kneeling in prayer or raising their arms in supplication to God, or carrying their dead or wounded on cold earthquake-hit slopes, and ask myself if I could truly believe that Islam so practised was particularly and peculiarly flawed. I cannot believe it is.

When I hear such an argument I also at times recall the recording of a radio broadcast that I first heard as a boy. The voice was that of Winston Churchill, speaking nearly three quarters of a century ago in June 1941, when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union and made Russia Britain’s ally against Nazism.

Having spent several previous years warning people about the dangers of Russian Communism, Churchill now had to gather support for an alliance with those same Russians and Communists.

The man whose eloquence rose to every challenge again found the right words. In his speech in June 1941, which included the famous line about fighting Hitler ‘by land, by sea and in the air’ - Churchill also said, referring to Russians threatened by Hitler: ‘I see the 10,000 villages of Russia, where the means of existence was wrung so hardly from the soil, but where there are still primordial human joys, where maidens laugh and children play.’

Well, Muslim maidens laugh too, and Muslim children also play, and all Muslims, Sunni or Shia are grateful for primordial human joys. They hate terrorism as much as anybody else in the world, and perhaps even more, for more Muslims have been killed in terrorist acts than non-Muslims.

Violence Has No Religion

In Rwanda in 1994, some massacres actually took place in churches. Does that make the Rwanda killings a Christian crime? When in the 1970s, Buddhist Cambodia was the venue for the killing fields, did the massacres reflect an innate Buddhist flaw? When a few years ago, almost all members of the royal family of Nepal were shot dead, and later a large number of peasants and security men were killed in shootings, was some Hindu teaching to blame? Indeed, were the two Great Wars of the 20th century a result of Christianity?

That religion is an element in the complex stories of modern violence is only too true; but we should be careful before saying with finality that it is religion in general and one religion in particular that fills a heart with hate and the desperate desire to destroy others and oneself.

We should recognize that the clash in the world today is not between civilizations, cultures, religions or nations, but rather between forces inside each heart, between fear and faith, between fear (or hate) and acceptance.

Rajmohan Gandhi is a Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. A former member (1990-92) of the Rajya Sabha, he is associated from 1956 with Initiatives of Change (formerly known as Moral Re-Armament), and has been engaged for half a century in efforts for trust-building, reconciliation and democracy and in battles against corruption and inequalities. He has authored many books including The Good Boatman: A Portrait of Gandhi. His latest book narrates a 240-year story of what old-timers know as undivided Punjab, beginning with the 1707 death of Emperor Aurangzeb and ending with the 1947 division into West Punjab and East Punjab.

(Reproduced with permission of the author, this piece is taken from his recent speeches)


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