WHAT’S IN A NAME? Random Reflections of Jihads of diverse breeds

Light of Truth

Valson Thampu

What’s in a name? Wondered Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. If you call a rose by any other name, say excreta, it will smell just as sweet. True. But the problem is that this logic works to different ends as well. If you call excreta rose and smell, you won’t look happy that you have. So, does a name matter? Of course, it does!
Naming is an exclusive human faculty. It is encoded in our Adam-ic gene. It was Adam, according to the Bible, who named what God created. Keralites are smarter than Adam: they are experts at improvising ‘second-names’ (iratta-per) or rile-names. The genius of this art should not be under-estimated. It lies in capturing something typical of a person and naming it in riling rusticity. I had a class-mate named Thomas (assumed name) by his parents. We re-named him, Vediyan Thomas. The ‘second-name’ was invented to name him precisely in terms of how he was endured by the rest.
Those who are inclined to be pen-pushers know how sensitive and decisive words are. The precision and sensitivity with which words are used calibrate one’s mental culture. It is said about Charles Dickens that he used to haul the ‘abusers’ of the English language –those who used it crudely- to the police station, demanding that action be taken against them. Admittedly, this is taking matters a bit too far; but it denotes something that merits attention these days.
Kerala is hurtling from one jihad to another. Narcotics-jihad has followed love-jihad in quick succession. What avatar jihad will take tomorrow is anybody’s guess. That apart, the spectre of jihad is not going to disappear from our midst any time soon. So, it’s worthwhile to ask, ‘What is jihad?’ Can love be its weapon? If love can be substituted with narcotics –as in the shift from love – jihad to narcotics-jihad – what does that reveal of our idea of love? Or, of jihad?
The problem with jihad is that no one really knows what it means. It is a sort of Pauline ‘all-things-to-all-people’ sort of word. It has an eel-like slipperiness in its semantics. Jihad can mean anything from struggling for a noble cause, to warring against one’s own mean passions, to defending oneself against external aggression, to fighting for the expansion of the Islamic State as a strategy for ‘winning the world for Islam’, to militancy and extremism in the name of Allah.
There is accusing a community of harbouring the secret intent to wage ‘love-jihad’ against one’s community is a semantic mishmash; unless the allegation is a compliment-in-disguise. The practitioners of love-jihad are, in effe-
ct, complimented for waging a holy war against themselves. No other meaning can be derived from ‘love-jihad’. If this is not what is meant by the present (ab)use of the term, something that corresponds what is intended needs to be coined; ‘lust-jihad’, for example. Or, marital-martial jihad (which can be shortened as mar-mar-jihad), or some such. Anything but love-jihad, please!
What about narcotics-jihad, then? Semantically, it promises to be an improvement on love-jihad. Probably that is why it succeeded love-jihad with haste-post-haste. One key idea is substituted by another, as Thomas Kuhn argued in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, when it is no longer defensible against evidence. Narcotics, unlike love, can be weapon-ized, it seems, as in the prolonged Opium War, which the British waged against the Chinese. But there is a dissonance in this use as well. No weapon is ever used with the complicity of its victims. Narcotics have to be consumed voluntarily by their victims. Consumption implies free choice. So, the idea of narcotics-jihad too will not stand semantic scrutiny. Bewailing one’s victim-status vis-à-vis narcotics-jihad is analogous to crying, ‘You are suiciding me!’. No, suicide is a service one has to do to oneself. No one else can do it to you. Someone may try to drive you to it; but the fateful decision to cut adrift can be taken only by you.
Beyond all this, there is a serious problem in assuming victimhood habitually, which is a psychological complex. Story is narrated of a man walking along a narrow road, walled on both sides. He began to worry what would do, ‘in case an elephant came from the opposite side’. The fear of this prospect so grew upon him that he began to hallucinate an on-coming elephant. He screamed. Leapt over the wall in distraction, and was promptly bitten by a bull-dog on the other side of the wall. It is not the elephant, but the dog-behind-the-wall that will get your shin in the end.
The psychological complex of hallucinating victimhood is that it paraly-zes the capacity to think factually and act rationally. It shifts the focus to the enemy. The quirk of human nature is that friends are remembered only fitfully; but enemies remain unrelenting obsessions. Victimhood is a queer form of demon-possession; one in which the demon is spawned by subjective fears and apprehensions. To those hallucinating in this fashion, however, the elephant is real and menacing. They feel themselves absolutely justified in screaming and leaping over the wall into the mouth of the dog loitering there; perhaps on intent, given that former hallucinating pedestrians had enacted the same script before.

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