With Iran being pressured over nuclear weapons, a chilling new video from the al-Qaida has asked Muslims in Kashmir to emulate “brothers” in war-torn Syria and Iraq and wage a violent jihad against India. It is fashionable among right-wing pundits to blame President Obama for the present victories by ISIS in Iraq. But then the Left then apportions blame to Bush and Blair for entering Iraq in the first place and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. However this misses the point because what is happening is the actual culmination of decades if not centuries in the coalescing of various social and political elements which western media either ignores or completely fails to comprehend.
It is like the use of ‘reform’. The Reformation in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Western Europe is seen as the logical and inexorable march towards democracy and freedom. It was in fact the complete opposite. The Reformation wreaked havoc. In like manner societies outside this sphere’s geographic and indeed time context have undergone seismic social convulsions when trying to emulate this period of European history in an effort to ‘reform’ themselves.
The idea is that a graceful butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis. In actual fact a nasty parasitic plague of vermin have nibbled their way out. This is exactly what we see in Iraq and Syria right now. It is the destructive process of yet another ‘reformation’. With the forces of radical Islam on the march, there have been calls to reform Islam. Most important in this arena have been Irshad Manji, Majid Nawaj and Stephen Suleyman Schwarz. Ironically the Islamic Reformation may already be happening before our eyes in places like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Kashmir.
When we speak of reformation we think of something improving, progressive, more amenable. Hence the Reformation is said to have done away with the corruption in the Church. In reality it brought war, intolerance and genocide on a scale hitherto unseen. Martin Luther did not just hate Catholics. His anti-Jewish diatribes were to prove a staple diet for Nazis such as Julius Streicher. In England we have James I and Charles I claiming the divine right of kings; a concept that only came into being after the Reformation.
The idea overloaded the head of Charles I so much until it was literally decapitated. Oliver Cromwell introduced a brief republic often seen as the forunner of democracy. It was anything but that. As Lord Protector his elite force of Ironsides enforced strict Protestant rigidity, even banning frivolities such as Christmas. It was even worse if you happened to be Catholic, and unbearably worse if you were both Catholic and Irish. But even this was not extreme enough for some of the Reformation’s children known as Puritans. They set sail to North America to found their ideal state which was the diametric opposite of the USA which now claims their inheritance.
With rigid conformity and trials of suspected witches this must have seemed like the colony from hell. But real hell was unleashed as the Reformation spread its venom throughout Europe. Both Catholic and Protestant sections of the divide believed that eternal destiny or damnation depended on what you believed and were prepared to kill in order to prove it.
From the late sixteenth century and into the seventeenth century, western Europe was consumed by this militant religious psychosis that led to trials of witches, pogroms of Jews, massacre of ‘deviant’ sects such as the Anabaptists, and the extermination of almost half of Germany’s population in the process where disease and famine became rampant as a direct result of the wars. Only with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 did the madness end, even if it did not fully subside. In the long-term, secularism was the result because the alternative would have been a never ending spiral of conflict.
Does this sound eerily like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan? Here Saudi and Qatari backed jihad outfits known variously as Wahhabi or Salafi fight viciously for control, even against other groups claiming to be engaged in jihad. As early as the eighteenth century the fledgling Wahhabi movement in the Nejd region of Arabia was seen by British commentators as a simple faith much like Puritanism, and more broadly with Protestantism. By doing away with veneration of tombs of Sufi saints as well as trees and other natural phenomena, the teachings of Ibn Wahhab were in almost exact parallel of Protestant rejection of Catholic practices.
Indeed both were violently iconoclastic as the Irish found out under Cromwell. But unlike Europe the Reformation here has not reached its Treat of Westphalia. History does not follow a predetermined path. The unexpected can crop up at any moment.
By trying to put Indian spiritual traditions into western categories the whole ethos has been missed. As we have seen ‘reform’ means change but not necessarily for the better. The Arya Samaj was the only serious attempt at a western style Reformation in Hinduism, which is why Dayananda was in many ways cut from the same cloth as Ibn Wahhab and Oliver Cromwell. In doing so the cult he created lost essential spiritual elements and became just a mindless tribe of automatons. The Bhakti movement was nothing like the Reformation in Europe. Hinduism never had or needed a reformation. The ideas evolved and splintered into many schools of thought.
Victorians were shocked at the brazen sensuality of the erotic carvings at Konorak and Khujarahao, as well as the more famous writings in the Kama Sutra. Yet at the same time men and women have left home, disavowing all material possessions in order to seek moksha and spiritual release from the physical body. There was simply no need for a mass psychotic movement like the Reformation. One only look at what is happening right now in Syria and Iraq to understand what a failed state Reformation Europe must have been like, minus of course the automatic weapons. India had no need of this Reformation just as it had no need of the secularism which was spawned by it as a bare necessity to escape the otherwise inevitable demographic implosion.
When under western domination Hindus started to try and model their beliefs on that inappropriate and flawed monotheistic model. The Arya Samaj claimed to be monotheistic and believe in a revealed scripture of the Vedas. It was called a Hindu ‘reform’ movement. Mahatma Phule was one of the early pioneers to uplift the Dalits. He claimed that there was a parallel between the Bhakti movements and the Reformation of Europe, which split the church into Catholic and Protestant sections. But as we have just seen this is hardly a positive role model for any civilisation. Reformation means a ‘Deformation’.