इंडियन आवाज़     16 Jan 2019 06:07:26      انڈین آواز

Religion in Democracy, a tool of co-existence


By Azam Danish

The ‘postmodern’ world is being divided on the lines of religion, ethnicity and race, but as we can see there are many world leaders who are willing to overcome the irrational division of societies, there are some who are breaking the tradition of inclusive politics which they inherited. Certainly, the message is clear.

The majoritarian parties in the U.S and India do not want to ‘appease’ the minorities (as they accuse their opposition), but it has to be made clear whether they are willing to include them in the mainstream and whether they acknowledge their presence and contribution to nation building along with the acknowledgement of the secular credentials of the State.

Conservatism as an ideology is at a rise in terms of global politics. England, Germany, India and more recently the U.S.A, all have elected conservative political parties at the helm of affairs. But there is difference between the types of conservatism followed in every country. England and Germany seem far more mature as a society and democracy compared to the U.S.A. or India for that matter. Throughout the 20th century the U.S.A. was seen as the forerunner of modern values such as liberty, inclusiveness and expression of thought whereas India followed at its own pace showing signs of a maturing democracy with greater prospect at its democracy. But now, that has changed.

Roger Scruton, one of the leading philosophers of traditionalist conservatism in England does not believe that religion plays any role in conservative societies. It does not matter whether one is a Christian or a Muslim for the idea of nation building and that all must strive for one goal, the greater goal and through which the basic “tradition” should be conserved. For Scruton, the dominant religion, namely Christianity, is merely one of the several contributory factors in nurturing of a national ethos*.

german Chancellor at iftar in ramzan

German chancellor at an Iftar reception

That is true in regards of the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom, recently when there were subsequent attacks due to Islamophobia, the leader of the government, Theresa May appeared well adhered to the primary value of Conservatism.

On the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, she not only wished the citizens of her country but also realized and acknowledged the problems the society is going through. Her message was clear. She understood the principle of Ramzan that of kindness and generosity. There is no doubt that June was rather an unfortunate month for the United Kingdom, but the people of Britain, who are known for their traditionalist style and walking the middle path showed great courage and prevented the society to be divided. For they knew that unity is the essential tactic to outcome any problem, here the intensity of the problem was much higher. Not only this, but large scale Iftar parties were conducted with the help of state officials and the civil society did play a greater role in it. To mark the inclusiveness, homosexuals were also invited to the Iftar parties and they happily attended them. These incidents, as one could realize were well intended to fight radicalism and communal hatred that is taking over the world, as it did in the post-World War I period.

The German chancellor  and the Prime Minister of Japan also organized Iftar parties this year. What they intend to do was show that the world is still a place without prejudices, especially based on religion.

German chancellor Angeela Markel also called for mutual appreciation of religions at an Iftar reception. She said a vast majority of Muslims were righteous and constitutionalist citizens, noting, “It is obvious that Islam undoubtedly has become one component of Germany.”

On the hand other Europe is suffering from economic depression, yet, inclusiveness is one aspect they do not want to lose and many European countries are still vouching for immigrants and want to solve the refugee crisis. It seems likely that the leaders have learnt well about history and they do not want to mix religion with state policies and they have taken a firm stand to fight radicalism and reactionary politics. The mature nature of the leadership in these countries becomes evident. One must not forget that the rise of Nazis and Fascism lies on the chauvinism based on language and religion.

Talking about Chauvinism, how can one forget the campaigns of Donald Trump and Narendra Modi? America had a long tradition of hosting Iftar parties at the White House; one vividly remembers photos of Barack Obama serving his guests at the Iftar parties himself. This year, The Guardian reports, ‘Trump ended the 20 year old tradition of hosting Iftar party’, it also reported, ‘Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies all had receptions to mark end of Muslim holy month’. The first President to host Iftar was Thomas Jefferson in 1805, after that in recent times, Hillary Clinton hosted Iftar Party in 1996 and she set the tradition, and no American President skipped the tradition till 2016. Obama in fact visited a mosque in the previous year to talk about ending the stereotypes against Muslims. Xenophobia has taken all over the executive in the U.S.A. and it seems that libertarian and inclusive aspects have been overshadowed by the prevalent xenophobia. Before preceding further, the concepts needs to looked and understood.

The conservative American political scientist, Samuel Huntington, in his book ‘Who Are We?’ defined what he called the ‘American Creed’, whose constituent elements according to him were the ‘Christian religion, Protestant values and moralism, a work ethic, the English language and so on’ he continued, ‘America was created as a Protestant society just as and for some of the reasons Pakistan and Israel were created as Muslim and Jewish societies’.* These are some of the narratives Trump used in his campaign. In some respects, Indian conservatism may be closer to its American rather than British counterpart.

Ramachandra Guha in his latest book, Democrats and Dissenters writes, “Indian Conservative, contrary to European or American counterparts, religious affiliations are both constitutive and definitive. Only Hindus, Sikhs and Jains are seen here as true or thoroughbred members of the national community.”* This can be seen in the policies and practices of the ruling party in India.

In India, just as America, there has been long tradition of hosting Iftar at Rashtrapati Bhawan to mark the inclusive and secular nature of the State. The President invites all the statesmen and diplomats at the Iftar party he hosts and a galaxy of leaders is seen here. In the last four years now, our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi hasn’t showed up in the Iftar Party hosted at the Raisina Hills. This year, during the era of mob lynching of the minorities, not a single Cabinet Minister was to be seen. There are no talks on what does this symbolize, no minister talks of this. Not only Mr. Modi, but also the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath skipped the Iftar Party hosted by Ram Naik, the Governor of U.P., whereas the deputy Chief Minister and most of the leaders of BJP were seen at the same party. No wonder the Hindu conservative is a curious combination of xenophobia and triumphalism. It aims to keep “outsiders” and “outside” influences out.*

The majoritarian parties in the U.S and India do not want to ‘appease’ the minorities (as they accuse their opposition), but it has to be made clear whether they are willing to include them in the mainstream and whether they acknowledge their presence and contribution to nation building along with the acknowledgement of the secular credentials of the State.

The principles of coexistence and tolerance in democracy are important for building mutually acceptable relationships between diverse communities within a state. If democracy is to work– it should be able to hold a diverse community together as a single entity in a nation. For achieving this goal there must be a certain level of tolerance between the different religious, ethnic, and racial groups living in that country.

In the absence of co-existence, societies will always be in conflict, with each side trying to somehow get rid of the other through violence and persecution.

[*- source] Democrats and Dissenters (2016), Ch. 16, Where are the Conservative Intellectuals of India? Guha, Ramachandra

Azam Danish, History student at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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