Light of truth

Valson Thampu

Increasingly, hating is being turned into a national virtue and a public obligation in our country. Cow-lovers have to hate cow-smugglers. Modi-worshippers must hate Modi-sceptics. Hindus must hate Muslims and Muslims must return the compliment. Indian nationalists must hate Pakistan and see nothing but crime, terror and aberrations in a population numbering some 200 million. Members of the ruling party must hate opposition parties. The Right must hate the Left. The hate-list is endless.

In the midst of it all, no one asks if this obligation to hate is consonant with fundamental rights; especially the right to practise one’s religion. I am not an expert on other religions. I am not even an expert on my religion. I have a nodding, nagging acquaintance with its fundamentals which works mostly to my disadvantage in most situations.  Not all of them need to bother us for the present. I present one such, for illustrative purposes. The best way to introduce it is, I believe, through one of Jesus’ parables the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus improvised this illustrative story in response to a question by an expert in Jewish law: “Who is my neighbour?” It is almost always overlooked that the expert raised this question in a specific context, which is critically relevant to us. The context is as follows:

Integral to the Jewish attitude was the obligation to not recognize Gentiles -especially the Samaritans as ‘neighbours.’ Only a Jew could be a neighbour to a Jew. All else had to be bracketed either as aliens or as enemies. (A significant pointer to one’s mental and ethical decline is the eagerness to see aliens, or strangers, as ‘enemies.’ The perversity of the caste system is that it degraded neighbours into aliens. Conversely, it is a sign of a person’s, or people’s, spiritual soundness that they can see aliens as neighbours).

We have got so used to reading the parable of the Good Samaritan as illustrating the piety of charity that we are blind to its wider thematic reaches. The parable is not about charity; it is about humanity and what it takes to be free from the shackles that we come to acquire or inherit in the name of religion, politics or whatever.

The revolution in the heart of the parable is that Jesus presents the Samaritan, unlike the Jewish priests in the parable, as free from the racial prejudice that saw human beings in terms of the ‘alien’ – ‘neighbour’ binary. To the Samaritan, if he had shared the outlook of the priest and the Levite, the wounded man would have been an alien, for he was a Jew and being an alien, an enemy, whom he was required not to help. It was tantamount to being traitorous towards his Samaritan-ness to respond to the needs of the way-side victim. This is obvious, if we recall the question that the Samaritan woman asks Jesus in another context: “How can you, a Jew, ask of me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”

The spiritual power of this parable is accessible to us only if we read it in light of the Sermon on the Mount; especially of the instruction to love one’s enemies and to overcome evil with good. An important political use of spirituality is the eradication of enmity from humankind. Nothing has inflicted greater suffering on our species and degraded our humanity as much as enmity has done. It is an epidemic that has raged unabated all through the centuries. If we distil the essence of the diabolic it will be found synonymous with enmity.

Yet, it is this enmity which is being today exalted as the ultimate virtue and national obligation. No matter how you and I are disposed, none of us dares today to confess in public our inability to, say, hate a Pakistani for no other reason than that he is a Pakistani. Why I should hate him, what harm he has done to me or to my dog, what offence he has contemplated, as an individual, against the majesty of my country, I need not know. I must hate him and see him as a dangerous enemy. It was not so, for example, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to broker peace with Pakistan.

I am obliged to imitate the role-model of Jesus who, on the Cross, forgave His persecutors. In one simple, almighty sentence – ‘Father, forgive; for they know not what they do”- Jesus rejected the validity of hate and spite.

So, I am in a dilemma. Unfortunately for me, I have encountered quite a few Pakistanis in the international area in the past via conferences and consultations. I found all of them as good and as bad as I am. Even five minutes into a discussion, it was impossible for me to hear the cacophony of ‘enmity’ in their voices. In the days that I was more of an immature fool and used to waste a lot of my time watching cricket, I used to admire Imran Khan as a captain and charismatic player. When President Zia-ul-Haq, a former student of St Stephen’s College, visited his Alma Mater in 1984, I coordinated his visit. It was no more than the homecoming of an alumnus. I was unhappy that Zia was a dictator and greatly embarrassed that his St Stephen’s education did not prevent him from Islamizing Pakistan. But, then, St Stephen’s also produced a psychopath called Pandher, who killed some 47 poor children in his vicinity for purposes that still remain intriguingly uncertain.

Even as a human being without a religious label, I have a need to be protected from the infection of hated and negativity. I wish to be normal, and not demented. For the life of me I cannot assume that seeing those who are labelled as inconvenient for whatever reasons as enemies and embodiments of unmitigated evil is a virtue. I am convinced it is abnormal and pathological. Whether I should be free to see what is good in my fellow human beings in the global village, unmindful of their labels, is a matter between me and my Maker. No political philosophy invests rulers with the right to penetrate the inner sanctuary of my spiritual life and to load it with their prejudices to the detriment of my inner hygiene. Taking over the inner life of human beings is the ultimate reach of totalitarianism. No worse form slavery can be contemplated.

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