You, the United Nations, cry about Islamophobia, Christianophobia, anti-Semiticism – all three Abrahamic religions. But what about non-Abrahamic religious phobias – the anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh and anti-Buddhist? You should see that also.” Approximately the words in which T S Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, shamed the 76-year-old organisation for its bias – sorry, its sole concern – for Abrahamic religions. In an outstanding address at the International Counter Terrorism Conference (Jan 18, 2022) organised by the Global Counter Terrorism Council (GCTC), he also exposed the motivated efforts to dilute the narrative of the battle against global terror, which kills some 25,000 people every year, by equating it with local brawls and riots in individual countries and regions.
Diluting the narrative of terrorism
Tirumurti first focused on the dilution of the concept of terror “by interested member states driven by political, religious and other motivations”. Referring to ‘emerging threats’, he pointed out that they began changing the narrative of terror by categorising it as good and bad, including in it domestic political issues of individual nations like violent nationalism and right-wing nationalism. He exposed them with four bullet points, saying:
- It is against UN members’ accepted principles on Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy itself.
- It revives the pre-9/11 era labels of “your terrorists” and “my terrorists”.
- It brings into the categorisation of terror even the broad spectrum of ideological right wing-left wing issues, which are part of democratic polity subject to electoral mandate.
- Terror labels are given even to so-called threats of violence limited to national or regional contexts.
Recalling Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar’s statement that terrorists are terrorists and there is no good or bad terror, Tirumurti stated that diluting the narrative of terror is the best way to undo the battle against terror.
Ignoring phobias against non-Abrahamics
Next, pointing out that the UN has often “highlighted” the phobias against the Abrahamic religions but never ever recognised phobias against non-Abrahamic faiths, Tirumurti drew the world’s attention to the obvious but unarticulated concern of Indic faiths. The distinction between religions — as Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic — drawn by Tirumurti from Western scholarship to show the UN bias against the latter is a turning point in the geopolitical discourse. The distinction between the two schools is common in the Western academic discourse but new to the politically correct geopolitics. Tirumurti has now made it part of the geopolitical debate. Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic schools operate on two different paradigms but are clubbed together by the common label, religion. Truthfully speaking, except for the religion label there is not much in common between them. The treatment of Abrahamic religions on par with Indic religions resonated in India because of the ancient Vedic saying, Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti, (Truth is one, sages see it differently) quoted by Swami Vivekananda in his famous address at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. But, the assumption that the two schools are identical is unreal. It ended up confusing the Indian mind and the global discourse about Indic faiths.
Doctrinally tolerant, doctrinally intolerant
One hears even our seculars and liberals often saluting Hinduism as a tolerant faith. Ask them if Hinduism is tolerant, what about the others, they will go silent. Tolerance is not nature’s gift. It is a virtue that needs nurturing. While a doctrinally tolerant faith nurtures tolerance, a doctrinally intolerant one multiplies intolerance. Decades back, in 1976, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court approvingly quoted Encyclopaedia Britannica as saying that Hinduism, which accepts all religions, “is doctrinally tolerant”, to rule that a Hindu family with Christian members was a Hindu undivided family. Citing it as one of the precedents, the court ruled in 1995 that Hinduism constitutes the national ethos, the way of life and culture of India, not just a religion. A year earlier in the Ayodhya judgment, justices S P Bharucha and A M Ahmedi said “tolerant Hinduism” helped other religions grow in India. But it was not mere tolerance. They grew because Hinduism accepts all religions as true, as Vivekananda proclaimed at Chicago.
But, far from accepting it, the three Abrahamic religions brand other faiths as fake. The Encyclopaedia, which said Hinduism is doctrinally tolerant, also said that the monotheistic conviction of Abrahamic faiths “results in the rejection of all other belief systems as false religions’’, which “partly explains the exceptionally aggressive or intolerant stance of the monotheistic religions in the history of the world”.
By introducing the differential of Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic schools into geopolitics, Tirumurti has laid the foundation for a geopolitical debate on doctrinal tolerance of the Indic school and the doctrinal intolerance of the Abrahamic one.
The Abrahamic, non-Abrahamic differential also throws up for debate another critical concept — religious fundamentalism, a most misused term in national and geopolitics. A global authority on religious fundamentalism is the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Co-founder Martin E Marty, an Ordained Lutheran Pastor and well-known Christian theologian, and R Scott Appleby, an acknowledged Christian scholar who had also worked in India for long, were Editors of the Project that involved scholars worldwide from diverse faiths. The Project went on for eight long years (1987-94). It resulted in a seminal literature of 3,500 pages in five mammoth volumes. The editors concluded in the first volume, titled Fundamentalism Observed, that “fundamentalism is more accurately attributable only to the people of the book, Jews, Christians and Muslims than to their first or distant cousins in the fundamentalist family: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Confucians.” They added, “Sacred texts do not play the same constitutive role in South Asian and Far Eastern traditions as they do in Abrahamic faiths....both to intensify missionary efforts and to justify extremism.” Mark the words “intensify missionary efforts” “to justify extremism” — which seed, and are seeded by, doctrinal intolerance. The project also found that “textual inerrancy’’ — the belief that the holy text cannot err — is unique to Abrahamic traditions and that results in fundamentalism. Yet the Indian seculars, ignoring, or unaware of the Fundamentalism Project, charge the Hindus, day in and day out, with fundamentalism. But they remain deafeningly silent about Abrahamic faiths, which the Fundamentalism Project declares as prone to fundamentalism.
Tolerant vs intolerant = Paradox of tolerance
What happens when the intolerant and the tolerant, the fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist doctrines, interface? Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science, wrote (Open Society and Its Enemies, 1945): “Less well-known (than other paradoxes) is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” Popper almost predicted what is happening now. He said “the intolerant may forbid their followers from listening to rational argument, and teach them to answer arguments by fists and pistols.” Isn’t that global terror today? Popper concludes that “we should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” When the intolerant tests the tolerance limits of the tolerant, the result is that the tolerant turns intolerant. Some liberals who cry over what they regard as the semitisation — that is Abrahamisation — of Hinduism, implicitly acknowledge Popper’s paradox of tolerance. Yet, not very honestly, they turn and charge the tolerant Hindus as intolerant. Result, Indic religions suffer from a triple whammy – they suffer against the intolerant; liberals charge them as intolerant; and liberals certify the intolerant as tolerant. Perverse indeed!
Abusing Indic religions affects India’s brand
If an Abrahamic religion — Islam or Christianity — is branded as intolerant, that will do little damage to India’s image. But if Hinduism or any Indic religion is imaged as intolerant, it will directly hit India’s brand. It doesn’t need a seer to say why.
In his Glimpses of World History, while accepting that Swami Vivekananda’s Hindu nationalism is not against anyone, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru went on to say that it is difficult to draw a line even between Hindu nationalism and Indian nationalism. In his seminal text Hind Swaraj, Mahatma Gandhi said Hinduism unifies India. Maharishi Aurobindo and Dr Annie Besant said India will live as long as Hinduism lives. The Supreme Court ruled that Hinduism is the ethos, culture and way of life of India and refused to review it.
What is the message? India’s image and Hinduism’s image are inseparable. India cannot have an acceptable brand if Hinduism has a disreputable image. The Indian Left, liberal, ultra secular scholarship and political leadership have over centuries and decades damaged the image of Hinduism. The globally popular Pandit Nehru even said that Muslim communalism is more aggressive, but Hindu communalism is more dangerous.
In retrospect today, it is a senseless statement. But such past secular and liberal narratives have been rendered outdated, even otiose, by the new scholarly understanding that Hinduism is doctrinally tolerant while Abrahamism is not; and Abrahamism is fundamentalist, while Hinduism is not. Indian intellectuals who want to build a respectable brand for India have to work to ring out the outdated narratives about Hinduism and to ring in the new narrative that Hinduism, not just doctrinally tolerant, accepts other religions; there is no fundamentalism in it; it a victim of the paradox of tolerance; and yet it is reverse-abused as intolerant.
QED: Tirumurti deserves to be congratulated for his geopolitical defence of Indian civilisation orphaned in the global arena by Indian scholars, state, media and intellectuals for seven decades. Also for opening the scope for a new narrative for Indic religions based on contemporary scholarship, scoring out the outdated narratives.
Editor, Thuglak, and commentator on economic and political affairs