Many, too many, countries in the world claim to be the most diverse. Diversity is the true essence of humanity. Reality is much different though; racism, bigotry, fanaticism, and a standardised politically correct mentality is killing diversity. Many a time, very often in fact, it is those who claim to defend diversity, practice the most ferocious ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological cleansing. Truly diverse nations are different to other more homogeneous and necessarily smaller countries. Normally the bigger the country, the more diverse. There are notorious exceptions to the size rule: Spain, Syria, Switzerland, Lebanon and even India. If one bares in mind that India is just over 3.3 million square km, and almost 1.3 billion people, it’s a relatively small country for such an immense population that hosts, without doubt, the most diverse population. It’s not just religious diversity, which is an undeniable fact, but also ethnic, linguistic, cultural, historic and sociological diversity that makes India the most unique country.
I am a proud Spaniard, but I am also Basque, very much so; my name Aristegui is as Basque as it gets, and it means ‘The Place of the Oak’ in Euskera, our ancient language. Pride in diversity and loyalty to the common nation, Spain or India, are far from incompatible, they are essentially complementary principles. As a non-separatist Basque, who was an elected Member of Spain’s Parliament representing a Basque Province, I was threatened by nationalist extremists and fanatical terrorists. Many of my colleagues and friends were murdered, others simply left the Basque country as the pressure of ETA (the terrorist organisation that has functioned as the worst kind of criminal Mafiosi network of extortion, racketeering and murder) became unbearable or a family member was kidnapped or murdered. ETA and their supporters claimed they wanted an independent Basque country, but they just wanted to impose dictatorship. There are nationalists that defend their points of view peacefully, I respect that even if I disagree with them.
The majority of Kashmiris are loyal citizens of India, but are also proud of their old culture, as others across the nation. Being proud of one’s origins does not justify separatism, when the majority of your fellow citizens reject it, and it can never ever tolerate terrorism. Anyone who claims to fight for a noble cause and commits murder, torture or extortion is a terrorist, and also those who are passive co-operators or accomplices. Murder and torture in the name of a cause desecrates it. How could anybody herald cowardness as gallantry, how?
Twenty-first-century Spain and India hail and protect their diversity as a fundamental element. Bigots consider people who do not share or abide by their creed as traitors or enemies. Terrorists who murdered 18 Indian soldiers are villains who claim to wage war to cover up their crimes. Those who remotely justify their atrocities are equally responsible for them.
Terrorism generates instability and poverty, and hinders growth and development. Imagine what all Kashmir and the rest of India could do with the resources committed to keeping the state and nation safe. Imagine how many schools, hospitals, or pensions could be paid with that. Think for a moment how that could benefit the armed forces in their programme of modernisation so that India could better face the many threats of the 21st century.
The defence of democracy requires unconditional engagement of all citizens, no matter where or how modest. This should be a universal quest, and the cause has one name: freedom, decency and human rights. We must succeed in condemning terrorism and its ideological fuel to complete oblivion through defeat.
Gustavo De Aristegui
Former Spanish ambassador to India