Saturday, December 17, 2005

Pankaj Mishra's Warped World

Because we consider ourselves secular nationalists, we are intrigued -- no, confused -- by Amit's endorsement of Pankaj Mishra (who we've taken issue with before).

Writing in The New York Times, Mr. Mishra suggests that America's war on terror is somehow in the same league as the horrors of nazism and communism. Indeed, to Mr. Mishra, the greater threat is not from the nihilistic extremism of Islamists, but from those who are trying to protect modernity against barbarism. In his warped world, the minor transgressions of secular democracies trying to defend themselves are worse than the mind-numbing outrages of religious fanatics trying to kill us all. Why? Because, nazism and communism happened to be secular too. Perhaps Mr. Mishra needs to be educated on who defeated both those evil forces and saved us all from unbearable tyranny. Or perhaps he needs IQ injections.

The destructive potential of modern nationalism should not surprise us. Traditional religion hardly played a role in the unprecedented violence of the 20th century, which was largely caused by secular ideologies - Nazism and Communism. Secular nationalism has been known to impose intellectual conformity and suppress dissent even in advanced democratic societies. In America, it was at least partly the fear of being perceived as unpatriotic that held back the freest news media in the world from rigorously questioning the official justification for and conduct of the war in Iraq.

As for traditional religion, outside Saudi Arabia and Iran and Afghanistan under the Taliban it has rarely enjoyed the kind of overwhelming state power that modern nationalism has known. Then why reflexively blame religion for the growth of intolerance and violence?

Incidentally, this is written in the context of the Orhan Pamuk case in Turkey -- a situation that relates to a tyranny suppressing freedom of expression (we've ourselves condemned this here). In Mr. Mishra's view, non-democratic Turkey's misconduct is good reason to beat up on democracies like US & India. Here is an interesting paradox -- Mr. Pamuk, Mr. Mishra's essay subject, contradicts Mr. Mishra (and Amit) by pointing to religious nationalists in India as those suppressing free expression; he does not blame our secular state.

Read more about what Mr. Mishra has to say about India to know how much he despises our nation:

In all these countries, a growing middle class turned a blind eye to, or even actively supported, the suppression of ethnic minorities in the name of national unity. In democratic India, up to 70,000 people have died in Kashmir in a violent insurgency that the Indian news media have yet to honestly reckon with. In Russian Chechnya, civilians and journalists have been as much victims as Islamic rebels. And such is the power of Chinese nationalism that even most dissident intellectuals in the West feel that Tibet and Xinjiang are part of their motherland.

In one ridiculous lumping together, liberal India has been equated to illiberal Russia and China. Hello?

All this is so outrageous as to defy comprehension. Amit, do reconsider your endorsement of this poppycock -- please.


nukh said...

seems mishra is ignorant that the most traditional of religions is trying to play catch [and in some cases succeding] up to nazism and communism.

amit varma said...

Erm, I was merely endorsing the point he made about nationalism being as distructive as religion, and I don't necessarily support the specific analogies he made or the examples he cited in support of that.

Jaffna said...

Primary Red,

I think that Pankaj Mishra is intellectually dishonest as part of his efforts to retain a readership in the West. The man is keen to be viewed as a "liberal". He had heavily attacked the religious fundamentalism of the Taleban a few years ago and might well be trying to "remedy" his reputation by taking on secular nationalism and other religions.

The Kashmir issue is a case in point. I am not sure whether 70,000 people had in fact died in that civil conflict even though the Pakistani media routinely gives that number. Moreover, the Indian armed forces were not responsible for all the killings in Kashmir. I would argue that cross border terrorism killed many, including the Muslim civilian leadership of political parties across the ideological spectrum that disagreed with their views. The carnage and terror currently experienced in the vale of Kashmir has little to do with secular nationalism. It has everything to do with religious fundamentalism. This includes the ethnic cleansing of 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus and brutal attacks on isolated Sikh villages.

His comparison with Tibet and Chechnya is completely unfounded and does complete injustice to the latter two cases. Tibet has been subject to vicious demographic assault that perhaps entailed the murder of 600,000 people (a conservative reckoning) while
Grozny was literally bombed into smithereens. May be Pankaj Mishra needs to be taught Political Science 101. But then again - intellectual dishonesty appears to be a blatant choice on his part given his desire to retain his "credentials" as a "liberal" in a North American audience.

cynical nerd said...

Well said PR. In addition, I would like to point out the glaring omission of Pakistan's minority treatment both in the 1971 genocide (yes, we should call it as it was) and the systematic reduction of its Hindu popupation there.

Ever wondered why there were so much earthquake casualties on the Pakistani side? It is because, the Pakistani army establishment has systematically populated that area with Pak-Punjabis. Contrast that with India's Article 370.

It is not only the likes of Shri Mishra, there are also other dorks like Sarmia Bose (a denier of the 1971 genocide) who are actively courted by the Washington "South Asia" policy wonks.

doubtinggaurav said...

In "Gulliver's Travels", Two nations fought for "from which end ,should egg be broken".

Communism was internationlist and irreligious in charactor, but I don't think it was any better than other.

As a nationalist if I am making a point I will take care not to quote some Nazi revisionist.


Anonymous said...

Nazism was not a secular ideology - it was supported by the Roman Catholic Church, who used to celebrate Hitler's birthday every year. Also, a vast majority of Germans were very religious Catholics (Hitler hated Christianity but still believed in ancient Pagan/Nordic myths). And Pope Pius did not once condemn the attacks on Jews, although one Nazi, Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated from the Church. Do you know why??? Because he married a Protestant!!!! And where do you think all the antisemitism in Europe came from - it was taught to people every Sunday in their churches.

And all the totalitarian movements at the start of the 20th Century - Franco in Spain, Salazar in portugal, the guy in croatia (can't remember the name) - were Catholic right-wing led. Even in Communist Russia, the people had been led to believe that the Tzar was a little more than human, although a little less than divine. This Tzar was quickly replaced by Lenin and then Stalin. Why else do you think Stalin was treated like a God? The problem with the Communist movement wasn't that it was secular, it was that it was too religious. It's the same thing even in North Korea today, where, although the country is officially atheist, the leader is the Eternal President, who's dead, Kim Sung Il, and his son is only the Premier. There are many crazy myths in North Korea, such as yellow birds were circling the head of Kim Sung Il when he died, and they sang in North Korean. North Korea is THE MOST RELIGIOUS country in the world, nothing secular about it.

If you want to take a look at countries that are atheist/secular, look at Scandinavia - Sweden, Norway and Denmark have a 2/3rd atheist population, or Britain, with a 44% atheist population, or France and Japan, both with a little over half.


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