The beheading of a tailor in Udaipur by two local, homegrown Islamist radicals adds yet another name to an extremely long list of murders in the name of Islam in the Indian subcontinent. This atrocity follows a TV debate and a resultant outrage; one that got manufactured in social media courtesy the woke-media combine of ‘fact checkers’, journalists, ‘influencers’, and Bollywood celebrities.
This perception that ‘I/we feel insulted’, or the resultant act of manufacturing an outrage from time to time is not new. Across the subcontinent from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, this model has mostly been a mass-produced cottage industry material – primarily through neighbourhood seminaries and meetinghouses since a few centuries now; the social media has added wings to it.
Fundamentalist teaching-driven perception and outrage have transcended geography too. Europe, for instance, is witnessing the rise of the same since a few years now; whether a Paris-based tabloid office gets riddled by bullets in broad daylight or a gay couple gets stabbed in Dresden.
This model finds utility in areas where Muslims are a minority – in Europe for instance – almost as a testimonial to the pop theory The Intolerant Minority Wins, offered by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his famous essay. The consequence of gore-porn like open beheadings, slashings and stabbings (always in broad daylight, in crowded places, and circulation of the video the Internet) is invariably that of profound horror and helplessness. When a secondary school teacher Samuel Patty gets beheaded in a public place at five in the evening, when an ISIL terrorist slashes the throat of a captive and broadcasts it live, or when Kanhaiya Lal of Udaipur gets dragged outside his shop for effects before being beheaded, there is only one reaction among the population: large scale trauma.
This serves a purpose. In places like mainland Europe, this barbarism breathes life to an invisible ring, one that always surrounds these settlers wherever they go. This ring provides them with a figurative foothold there that announces arrival and helps them cement an identity. And in places like India or the UK, where this identity has existed for some time, a perpetuation of such acts helps in expanding that ring to access and control a larger share of power and narrative.
This is a heady mix of religion and politics. Government agencies, in their supreme incompetence and callousness, have failed to develop a playbook to address this case of medieval fanaticism amidst (post) industrial setting. On the contrary, they remain busy pushing it under the carpet at the inconvenience and peril of the majority.
Different state governments in India, for instance, put different bans on sundry Hindu festivals and processions out of the fear of ‘disturbing religious sensibilities of minorities’, and a politically correct Britain is impotent to prosecute or even talk about the Rotherham grooming gangs that have been raping and/or murdering British children since the last couple of decades.
The intolerant minority prevails because the majority is soft, notes essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Modernised societies, whether Western or otherwise, are not equipped to handle such optics. Humans from these countries have handed over all aspects of safety and security to their governments since generations now. Martial resistance to gangs, curbing violence with violence, a salient feature till about two centuries ago has been surrendered to the so-called higher authorities with the hope that times have changed and that there would be no need for the same in future. The result has been large-scale gentrification (read softening of the mind and body). If the average man does not fight back, it is because he cannot fight; he has lost his ability to fight.
The Way Ahead
Immediately after the Udaipur beheading, different opinions about how to counter this kind of a behaviour have surfaced in the more neutral/centrist space – some of them, quite realistic. Considering that the government is bothered about societal security and wellbeing more than about winning the next election – undeniably a tall expectation among Indian politicians – some of these suggestions are worthy of serious perusal.
There are countries too that have successfully defended their core identity and civilizational roots against the onslaught of medieval fundamentalism in the recent past; any government worth its votes can find multiple templates in history. Japan, Russia and China come to mind. And while the instance of Japan’s answer to Christian proselytization is a model that is past its utility date (or has it?) in modern times, the success of the USSR and China remain a topic that very few talk about substantially.
Soviet success in stemming Islamic fundamentalism could be an elaborate case study on controlled exposure, selective permeation of ideas (even considering Stalin’s miscalculation about controlling Sufism in central Asia), and maintenance of a choke-hold on foreign funding, calculated industrial development, and demographic engineering. And for those that think it to be a thing of the past and possibly outside the scope of present times, a post-Soviet Russia has continued defending its cultural identity with elan; the proof of which lies in Chechens fighting alongside Orthodox Russian special operation team in Ukraine in 2022. This is despite a series of bloody Russo-Chechen wars and decades of conflict that ended just about a few years ago. From Czarina Catherine or General Kaufmann (both Germans), Leonid Brezhnev or Mikhail Bulgakov (both Ukrainians), to MMA champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (Dagestani) or Ramzan Kadyrov (Chechen) and their common identity as ‘Russians’, Russia has over the centuries demonstrated the power of national identity and how it can triumph over ethnicity or religion.
I believe there could be some learning hiding in China as well. Let us be frank. At this point, concrete evidence against Chinese ‘atrocities’ is limited. There is only clamour in some of the Western agencies, and in some sections of the media. But given their track records, their credibility is always suspect among level-headed observers. Whether China is running labour camps, or re-educating its religious fundamentalists in a more humane fashion remains to be seen. But Chinese nationalism as the overarching umbrella – like Russian identity – remains a constant.
Since India does not have an identity, there could be lessons to learn about coalescing one on the face of an expansionist onslaught. Russia (and probably China too) has demonstrated how to reconcile with, and integrate the section that is prone to religious fundamentalism. They have done that in a manner that corresponds with their civilizational ethos.
In this clash of an expansionist, fundamentalist outlook and a nationalistic, civilizational one, Russia, Japan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, have all made their choices. Can India successfully join them to help create what we can then call RISE (Russo-Indo-Sino-East)? Or will it turn into a basket case that helps Nassim Nicholas Taleb graduate from an essay to a whole book on how the intolerant minority always wins?
(Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical enthusiast and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed. He tweets at heartland_ari.)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)