When one mentions of militant religious extremism, the image that emerges instantaneously is that of Islamic extremism and the groups associated with it, e.g. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram, Al-Shabab, etc. The reason for their prompt identification is their association with horrendous acts of terror and brutality that have swamped the internet and print media. It is these imageries which drive our collective fear and repulsion against them. But restricting our focus on just the acts of violence sometimes masks the other important issues. Violence is the end product and not the starting point of any movement. Every movement begins with the proselytisation of a particular ideology that provides the structure that holds together the acts committed toward its propagation. So what is this ideology that Islamic extremism propagates? Simply, it is the incompatibility of any other ideological system (other religions, social, economic or political systems) alongside/except their own: The extermination of the non-members is only a natural progression from this basic premise. Violence, however, is not the obvious end-product and peaceful outcomes are equally possible, e.g., missionary activities, self-exclusion. Right now in the Middle East the destructive aspect is found to be more dominantly displayed.
At any one time though, a proselytizing movement utilizes both the peaceful as well as violent tools in varying combinations. A very relevant example is the current scenario in the country regarding the attempt to push the Hinduvta agenda by a government that also believes in the ideology of ‘incompatibility of differences’. The ‘Love Jihad’, lynching of people for alleged beef consumption, are examples of employment of violence while marking of Christmas as ‘Governance Day’, ‘Ghar Wapsi campaign’, are instances of peaceful means to either intimidate non-members or bring them to the fold of an exclusive Hindu nation. The Buddhist fundamentalists are performing the same function in Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka. As a consequence minorities, i.e., non-Muslims in the Middle East, non-Hindus in India and non-Buddhist in Sri Lanka and Myanmar suffer. In such a situation, an important concern for us might be the fear that being a Christian majority state we will be condemned to be at the receiving end of such exclusivist ideology. While this is a very relevant concern, a more troubling issue that does not figure enough in our discussion is whether Christian fundamentalists are also equally complicit in peddling the same prejudices within our state?
Recently, I attended a religious concert organized by the Presbyterian Church in Lait Tyra. There were a couple of bands who had come to perform and it was a very enjoyable evening with great music and lots of energy, especially among the younger audiences. Although I enjoyed the whole experience I was left greatly disturbed by the short drama that was performed before the musical programme. This was a drama about three young girls who had died and gone to heaven for judgment. One by one the girls are told that their name is not in the good book which means that they will not go to heaven. Upon hearing this, the girls collapsed to the ground crying in fear of the punishment that awaited them in hell. They beseeched to God that they had been good Christians throughout their lives and done nothing wrong to deserve this fate. However God (who was played by a very dour looking person) refused to accept them by revealing that though they may have done good deeds while they were alive, there was also some sins that they had committed. For example, one girl was accused of the sin of murder. She denied but was chastised by reminding that bearing ill-well towards fellow Christians in thought (though not done in deed) is equal to murder. In this way, the other two girls were also judged of sins of immoral thoughts. Refusing to recognize them, God asked his angels to take the girls and throw them in hell for eternal damnation. Throughout all this, the girls were crying and shouting so pitifully that children in the crowd got scared and started crying. The performance was so convincing. All the time I was waiting, thinking that maybe in the end God would somehow forgive them and allow them entry into heaven. But to my disappointment the drama ended on that depressive note. I was left bewildered, not understanding the purpose of this passionate performance. Does it mean that no matter what we do we will all burn in hell? Humans are not perfect but isn’t “to err is human, to forgive divine”. Also, didn’t Jesus died on the cross to save humanity from eternal damnation, the exact fate those girls suffered. But then I realized that the whole drama had a different purpose altogether.
The sound system was excellent throughout the whole progamme and I was quite jealous remembering the horrible experience I recently had with terrible sound system. Also the whole venue had a kind of natural amphitheatre ambience that magnified the noise. The shrieks and the cry for forgiveness were heard by everybody in the village and possibly beyond. These girls were good Christians for all intent and purposes except some flaws which actually aren’t really flaws – they didn’t actually commit any wrong actions simply had wrong thoughts. Also the whole performance had reference to immoral thoughts towards fellow Christians and no mention of non-Christians. The message of the drama was this: those who have accepted the savior still couldn’t be saved imagine what fate awaits those who have not accepted him. What was being tried to impress was that the non-believers (present or listening) should abandon their pagan beliefs or suffer violence in the afterlife. In all of this one sees a drama, which is a peaceful mean, being utilized to intimidate and create fear among the ‘others’ by imbibing it with images of grotesque violence. Here, violence and peace are being intertwined in a very effective combination to drive home a particular message. The remarkable thing was that this method of proselytisation was similar to the theme of the drama i.e., the condemned girls had committed violence not in deeds but in thoughts. Therefore using the same logic, the drama could be said to be a violent act.
This is not the only instance where the ‘others’, i.e., non-Christians, have been threatened if they didn’t became part of the flock. I have heard many preachers and seen many performances to consider this as a one-off incident. Not going into the debate on the theological aspects of it, what I would like to point out is that such acts demonize the ‘others’ warning the believers to avoid the former. It is a well known fact that people have been threatened of being kicked out of the balang if they were to take part in festivals of other groups. The word ‘blei thaw’ is quite familiar to us with the degrading connotation it carries. So we already have people in our state who have developed their own version of the ideology of ‘incompatibility of differences’; given the right motivation they could very soon take the next step, i.e., violence (not in thought but in actual deed). Am I being a naive alarmist? We must remember that the state has a history of ethnic violence and one wonders how much religious difference had a role to play in it. The threat, therefore, may not be imminent it could be already operational.
Am I blaming the Christians in general? Absolutely not, for that would mean I believe that all Muslims are terrorists and all Hindus are casteist which is completely rubbish. Christianity has had a very positive effect in bringing modernization to our people but at the same time, its impact is not totally benign. If we are to protest the imposition of hegemony by Hinduvta forces and/or counter the threat of radical Islam we need the courage to identify our own demons as well. One kind of discriminatory ideology cannot be a justification for another. I am neither denying the importance of religion as a force for social good nor the usefulness of the concept of God for personal well-being, I am only asking us to recognize the dangers of the belief in the ‘incompatibility of differences’ that has already played havoc on certain parts of the world. Do not let our state be another victim of this hateful ideology.