Reading Identity and Violence on Burma (2)
Amartya Sen’s original work from Identity and violence: The illusion of destiny. Penguin Books India, 2007; pp. 74-77:
As was discussed in the first chapter, this book is especially concerned with the conceptual framework within which these confrontations are seen and understood, and how the demands of public action are interpreted. A confusing role is played here by the reliance on a single categorization of the people of the world. The confusion adds to the flammability of the world in which we live. The problem I am referring to is much more subtle than the crude and abusive views that have been expressed about other cultures by people in the West, like the irrepressible Lieutenant General William Boykin of the U.S. Army (whose claim that the Christian God was “bigger than” the Islamic God was discussed in the first chapter). It is easy to see the obtuseness and inanity of views of this kind.
What, however, can be seen as a bigger and more general problem (despite the absence of the grossness of vilification) are the possibly terrible consequences of classifying people in terms of singular affiliations woven around exclusively religious identities. This is especially critical for understanding the nature and dynamics of global violence and terrorism in the contemporary world. The religious partitioning of the world produces a deeply misleading understanding of the people across the world and the diverse relations between them, and it also has the effect of magnifying one particular distinction between one person and another to the exclusion of all other important concerns.
In dealing with what is called “Islamic terrorism,” there have been debates on whether being a Muslim demands some kind of strongly confrontational militancy, or whether, as many world leaders have argued in a warm— and even inspiring— way, a “true Muslim” must be a tolerant individual. The denial of the necessity of a confrontational reading of Islam is certainly appropriate and extremely important today, and Tony Blair in particular deserves much applause for what he has done in this respect. But in the context of Blair’s frequent invoking of “the moderate and true voice of Islam,” we have to ask whether it is at all possible— or necessary— to define a “true Muslim” in terms of political and social beliefs about confrontation and tolerance, on which different Muslims have historically taken, as was discussed earlier, very different positions. The effect of this religion-centered political approach, and of the institutional policies it has generated (with frequent announcements of the kind, to cite one example, “the government is meeting Muslim leaders in the next vital stage designed to cement a united front”), has been to bolster and strengthen the voice of religious authorities while downgrading the importance of nonreligious institutions and movements.
The difficulty with acting on the presumption of a singular identity— that of religion— is not, of course, a special problem applying only to Muslims. It would also apply to any attempt to understand the political views and social judgments of people who happen to be Christian, or Jewish, or Hindu, or Sikh, by relying mainly— or only— on what their alleged religious leaders declare as spokesmen for their “flocks.” The singular classification gives a commanding voice to the “establishment” figures in the respective religious hierarchy while other perspectives are relatively downgraded and eclipsed.
There is concern— and some astonishment— today that despite attempts to bring in the religious establishment of Muslims and other non-Christian groups into dialogues about global peace and local calm, religious fundamentalism and militant recruitment have continued to flourish even in Western countries. And yet this should not have come as a surprise. Trying to recruit religious leaders and clerics in support of political causes, along with trying to redefine the religions involved in terms of political and social attitudes, downplays the significance of nonreligious values people can and do have in their appropriate domain, whether or not they are religious.
The efforts to recruit the mullahs and the clergy to play a role outside the immediate province of religion could, of course, make some difference in what is preached in mosques or temples. But it also downgrades the civic initiatives people who happen to be Muslim by religion can and do undertake (along with others) to deal with what are essentially political and social problems. Further, it also heightens the sense of distance between members of different religious communities by playing up their religious differences in particular, often at the cost of other identities (including that of being a citizen of the country in question), which could have had a more uniting role. Should a British citizen who happens to be Muslim have to rely on clerics or other leaders of the religious community to communicate with the prime minister of his country, who has been particularly keen to speak through the religious leaders?
Streamlining Sen’s ideas:
Republicans in US, no matter how artificially indolent or artlessly clever are they, find themselves elegant to quote their deified President Ronald Regan’s words of his inaugural address in 1981, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”. Congruent with Regan’s thoughts, the historical words of Buddha overtly declared to we followers, “monks (being infatuated with greed, arrogance and especially sumptuousness), are real problem-makers to besmirch my teachings (Buddha’s Sarsana)”, implicitly informing us if we know who definitely are stirring the gamut of these troubles against our peace and wisdom, we shall not be that gullible to impress these trouble-makers as our saviors from nasty medleys that these jaded bedlams are relentlessly creating for us.
Ironically, while Buddha disparaged monks as incorrigible disfigurers of his reputation, he never assumed his teachings (Sarsana) would ever have come under some threat of elimination in any quagmire situation. “Unperturbed and no-hold-barred, my Brahmin”, Siddhartha Gautama announced to Subhuti, who was his most erstwhile friend to be met after his enlightenment and his latest real-time streamliner to be taught before his death, “as long as there are individuals who love to follow the practices of my teachings, for sure, our loving earth will never be bereft of the Enlightened”. Buddha is the kind of person the philosopher of Open Society and its enemies will admire: “If you really like to live in a true republic, never love any the classified, love everybody in your surroundings”, Karl Popper expressed his abhorrence against Plato’s Republic by exposing hypocrisy of plutocracy and nativism that his great predecessor’s archetype was popularizing to deceive new coming generations of navies. Never ever attempted to exclusively endorse his own creed, nor having any proclivity to appraise even his closest disciples as the classified, Buddha can safely be described as one of the earliest individualistic liberal stars known to an open earth. Simpatico with the open society advocate Popper who intolerantly despised hegemony of pompous philosopher kings, Buddha did not see any necessity of tolerance for the role of “the Sanga-the collected, the classified, the blessed” as being beneficial for the propagation of his simple teachings, but the Lord envisioned “the Sanga-the individuals, the ordinary, the cursed” as the staunchest apologists who by themselves barring none are honing in on his Open Land.
Of course, this clear hermeneutic interpretation of Buddha’s words will barely be any fun to the colluded 969 monks of Burma. Nonetheless, these Burmese bourgeois will claim current problems of our society are too imminent so the Biblical principles of Buddha are at the least, temporarily inapplicable to the current myriad of out social situations and our people must be pragmatic and expedient in landing our inevitable duties of struggles and exercising our right of defense for sustaining our creed. Let us agree with them their proclaimed plethora of challenges are prevailing our more and more globalized society, terrorists’ threat; perilous social situations of Buddhist women; loss of natives’ rights in their own land, but as they said let us be duly pragmatic to ask ourselves and these hero monks, “are the duties for ameliorating our fundamental social problems belonging to the shoulders of the monks? If so what duties our laymen’s shoulders are for?”
Political and social problems are but the mundane affairs to be addressed by ordinary civilians and are not the obligations that bind supermen hermits to serve as enlightened jigsaw-solvers cum their noblest myth. If I am not prototyping spuriously, we clearly know mythical monks usually are not self-experiential with mishmashes of our societal life full of unpredictable and many incomprehensible clamor and turmoil. If they are not self-experiential, how can they say their understanding of our situation is pellucid? How they do are feeling the severity of pain and affliction as we laymen do? The literal knowledge of the complex non-religious civilian world, that the mythical classified might possess by hearing or reading, is by no means, a serious match to our civvies’ capabilities of developing individual insights to discriminate the depths and shallows of our problems, breeding our cleverness to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and bearing our learned tactfulness for manipulating our own affairs. For all those kinds of maturity, only we the unclassified, outsiders (in those mysterious persons’ blatant views) and crackpots are self-reliant partisans to unsteady blows of turmoil and tribulation that are too regular or not unexpected.
Turning back to my hermeneutics, Teacher Buddha himself did not see monks’ wisdom as much useful for sympathizing with myriad-minded individual experiences. That thought rendered Buddha to hypothesize that even in their subject of so-called mastery of metaphysics, his monks can barely find skillful means that fit rightly to soothe diversely difficult individual situations. Buddhist hermeneutics interpretations which publicly undermine the role of monks even for the major impacts on one unknowable other’s spiritual enlightenment, will willingly agree with the viewpoint from our current Apollonian pragmatic analysis that suggests the role of these earnest and callow monks in taking the challenges of scrambled social affairs of various undergirds is trivial at large.
To that end, a policy that dramatizes sorcerer monks should participate in social affairs for acting as bellwethers for directing their herds is an absolutely malign misconception. On top of that, such anachronistic placement of peddling religious power in front of our general social affairs eclipses the need for development of open society in Burma, which will open its doors to welcome numerous diverse social characters to be all-too inclusive, barring none. Having no will to hide for condemning such obtuse and inane nepotism towards the religion’s guys flamboyantly meddling with social affairs, the writer of the Declaration of Independence of America, Thomas Jefferson, famously wrote his comments for Spanish nations in one of his sincerely polite, humble letters, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes".