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The Taliban is a state of mind
For every Mulla Muhammad Omar in Afghanistan, there is a Giriraj Kishore in India
Jyotirmaya Sharma

(March 4, 2001): The pro-Soviet Leftists in the 70s wanted to de-Islamicise Afghanistan. The Afghans resented their atheism. Faith for them was a symbol of personal as well as cultural identity. This gave birth to a religious war or jihad against the Soviets. For the Americans, the mujahideen were not terrorists at that point of time: they were freedom fighters. Communism, nationalism and short-sightedness produced the Taliban.

In India, politics masquerades as religiosity and religion has got politicised. The Taliban and the Sangh Parivar are, at one level, empirical entities. At another level, they are states of mind. Intolerance, destruction, violence and irrationality come as naturally to them as breathing. For every Mulla Muhammad Omar in Afghanistan, there is a corresponding Giriraj Kishore in India. Similarly, for every felling of the Bamiyan Buddha, there is a parallel in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India. The Buddha looks on, amused.

It is the politics of `friend' and `foe' which has brought this about. And nationalism. Exclusivity, fear of complexity and plurality as well. Why get so hysterical over the destruction of a few statues in Afghanistan? Why not get equally charged by the razing to the ground of the Babri Masjid? Because power is an addiction and can only be attained through dividing people, by shedding blood, by vitiating every gentle norm in society.

The Talibanised minds of the self-appointed saviours of the Hindus have no concern for monuments and heritage either. Almost every museum in India is a super-glorified godown; invariably, every monument has been converted into a spitoon and a urinal. Nobody but a handful of idle moralisers are bothered. Heritage is neither `mine' nor `thine', it is ours. But we are either oblivious or resentful of the past. This is self-hatred. Why do we hate ourselves? Because we fear complexity and plurality.

It is unethical modernity -- represented by the former Soviets and the present-day Americans -- which has pushed the young men in Afghanistan into a kind of medievalism. Every tyrant, bigot and zealot has a hit-list where culture figures at the very top of this list. For every tyrant carries with him two essential objects: a gun and a pocket calculator. Culture, on the other hand, unsettles. It holds a normative mirror in front of us. Talibanisation has nothing to do with the form of government prevalent in a country. One look at the Shiv Sena activists on Valentine's Day rubbishes all the virtues attributed to democracy.

The Buddha stands smiling at the spectacle of his statues being bombed. An earnest reporter asks for a sound-bite, that supreme form of reductionism. The Buddha obliges. He says: ``It is by destroying, stilling, stopping, renouncing and abandoning all imaginings, all supposings, all thoughts of `I am the doer', `Mine is the doer', all latent `I am', that a Truth-finder is freed with no residuum for rebirth remaining...You would like to possess something that was permanent, stable, eternal, not liable to change, that would stand fast like unto the eternal. But can you see any such possession? Neither can I.''


Updated: 3-3-2001

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