The revenge of history is the return of the past. Values of long-gone eras are now emerging from the dusty closet of time to redefine democracy and governance. The expanding global conflict between the Right Wing and Liberals has taken the shape of sectarian conflict. In India, it is between Hindutva and the Secular order. In Turkey, it is between political Islam and democratic values as much as it is between theocracy and free expression in Saudi Arabia. In Europe, it is between the Church and youth who are losing faith. In the US, it is between the evangelistic Christian Right and the liberal world of academia, art, entertainment, gender equality and culture.
If the Hindu Right’s anti-secularist moral policing is getting bad press worldwide, the US is no better. Like Narendra Modi ignited Hindu nationalism in India, Donald Trump yahooed redneck evangelism in the US, Recep Tayyip Erdogan fuelled Ottoman futurism in Turkey and Xi Jinping kindled communist nationalism in China. Though they are nationalist icons in their respective countries, their ideas and ideologies have gone beyond personalities.
As Liberals struggle with the Hindu Rashtra concept, the American White Christian Right has declared war on liberalism. Last week, Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to Trump, declared: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion.” He said this while speaking on the Far Right “ReAwaken America” tour. Ironically, the earliest settlers in the US had fled England to escape religious persecution.
The 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers were the breaking point and caused the nationalist upsurge against Islam. The rise of White Christian Nationalism in the West is a response to immigration just like the Indian Right defines Muslims as invaders-turned-immigrants. In both cases, in the centre of the storm is the purity of race and faith. In the 2018-19 Pew Research Center surveys, 65 percent of American adults identified themselves as Christians—a fall of 12 percentage points over the past decade.
During the same period, the proportion of Americans who described themselves as atheists, agnostic or “nothing in particular” went up to 26 percent of the adult population, alarming the White Republican Christian Right, which sees the erosion of religious values of family, marriage, anti-abortion and anti-divorce as a consequence of urban liberal lifestyles. In India, the Hindu birth rate was up from 1950 by over three times by 2011. However, the percentage of Hindus in the total Indian population was down to 79.8 in the 2011 census—966 million to 172 million Muslims. Meanwhile, Muslims have the highest fertility rate (2.6 children per woman in 2015) over 2.1 for Hindus. These changes have caused a social regrouping where the majority perceives itself as the victim of secularism.
The truth is that society exists as a cyclical continuity of opposites. When liberalism becomes pervasively chaotic, people revert to the stability of conservative ethos. When the conservative ethos becomes too rigid and unipolar, liberal reform storms the gates of inflexible faith. This has been the case from Socrates to Raja Ram Mohan Roy. The key to change is the desire for an identity rooted in stability. The paradox is that the nature of stability flickers in uncertain times.