We have always been reprimanded, as students, not to judge or work out of context for the simple reason that we would be missing the gist of the problem under consideration. And what more potent example can we quote to impress on this potential danger by uttering that word “malbar”.
This very word would stir bitter emotional upheavals in most Mauritians yet it would be just a harmless vulgarised connotation in Reunion Island, and in India it would be just a geographical orientation. Just to illustrate how a simple word, and language, can stimulate different mental pathways in human brains and elicit different feelings. And all of us would know how the court of law would like all citizens to define a frame of reference long before coming to its doorstep just to keep within a well defined scope for work, and to prevent stakeholders from going on fishing expeditions.
But is this tacit condition always understood by all members of society, or do some adopt different frames of reference which ultimately lead to definite conflicts? Or, as our world is regressing to a village, do all countries agree to use the same cultural standard to dialogue or are they on different wavelengths? What language to use between those who are atheists and those who are God-fearing people? While some of us are out to talk about freedom, about the blossoming of individual talent, of learning to appreciate life, others are convinced that they must bend to a superior being and his laws. Last weekend, every European football match started with one minute of silence for the 13/11 victims with the French colours and national anthem well in evidence; while in Turkey the Greek national team playing the hosts saw their national anthem booed and the one-minute silence disturbed by whistles! The Turkish excuse was that they have no condolences from the Europeans whenever the extremists Kurds bomb the Turkish people! We can suppose that this dissonance has always been the problem of the world.
The past comes back
There was a time when some nations had thought that slavery and colonization were quite innocent pastimes, especially to replenish the coffers of the exchequer, while the oppressed people at the receiving end felt the cruelty of that fate. Immigrants, going west, would meet a smiling statue with a flambeau, greeting them and wishing them freedom as they reached the shores of America, while it has its back turned on the Amerindians — the very indigenous people whom some of the new immigrants would craftily gift with smallpox infested blankets to decimate them!! Intelligence, it is being said, goes hand in hand with cruelty, and some people are asking whether it is leading us to a dead end. We use it to become diplomatic, to smile on the enemy while undermining his resources in the backyard. We get the H-bomb, and refuse others the right to do the same. We use our electronic know-how to hack the software of those who want to go nuclear. We want to keep ahead to the detriment of others.
But should we be at the receiving end and have only ‘bow and arrow’ to fight with, our anguish, frustration and dislike of others will be limitless. And some good day we discover in some religious book a chapter telling us that every means is good to undo the “enemy”. This supplies us with an excuse to go on rampage to abandon our organism to adrenaline, just as some extreme athletes would cross the oceans in solo, climb a vertical cliff with no safety net, slide down kilometres of mountains on a board, or surf gigantic waves. The only difference is that the former group is finding pleasure in slitting the throats of innocent women and children.
All this would perpetually stir our concept of right and wrong. Will those sleeping on money get up and share their fortune with the billions who are starving and dying of thirst and diseases? Will the climate sceptics, especially the conservative republicans, give up their comfort and fortunes to stop being blind to our deteriorating environments? Why do we choose to be blind or deaf whenever it suits us? We always have an excuse for our actions even when we are wrong!
And then as we all have been at war at one time or other during the long history of humanity, there were always a victor and a vanquished. The victor would write history and downplay its own atrocities; would spin a psychological leverage and talk of “forget and forgive” and walk into the future to discover new horizons in all fields of life. But the vanquished would harbour some grudge; might forgive but will not forget. The frustration and humiliation would be passed down from generation to generation and to foment future misunderstanding. Here the future assumes a different meaning; the individual would have a different concept of history and civilization. The descendents of the victors and the vanquished would still be on the warpath, and always envying each other. Let us not forget that the First World War was won by the Allied, but lost at the Treaty of Versailles, which had given a certain Adolf motivations to rake up a second war.
Some wise men have always opposed war not only because of the cruelty it whips up but because of the domino effect it would leave in its wake for centuries to come. It is possible that we are facing this abominable scenario nowadays; we fail to understand that regression to barbarism because we fall in the trap of judging it out of context. Our emotions always reign supreme. Yet how we would have liked that such barbarism were a thing of the past. How we would have liked that all of us of different cultures, creeds, religions, and colour could sit together and converse rationally.
Is it possible that we are so naïve to have believed that the whole world has become democratic, educated, rich and well-nourished, always looking in the same direction to uncover a brave new world? Could we have forgotten the KKK, the “Brigade Rouge”, the German extremists of the 1960s and 70s, the orange horror of the Vietnam war or Pinochet, supported by his cronies Thatcher and Reagan, who murdered so many of his own people? Will those who have suffered or are still suffering forget?
What drove Bush and Blair to harass Saddam Hussein without pondering on the aftermath? And went to commit the same mistake with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya? And now going after Bashar Hafez al-Assad, will Syria end up as those two countries with a lot of political instability? Is it possible that those western leaders have failed to understand that not all countries are ready to manage democracy, that not all the world think as they think; though all of us do concede that perhaps the best political system to prevent war is constant dialogue and a democratic voting system? People in different places think differently, believe in different deities, or no deities. Has the West invited a backlash to its doorsteps, without realizing it?
Do we analyse, judge and appreciate human races and civilizations piecemeal or do we always keep everything in a global, historical context and perspective? We’ll remember 13/11, but how many of us will remember those faithful set aflame, and charred to death, in their churches in some African countries? Or those kidnapped girls?
Yet we cannot tell others how to live their life because we may be of different mental and psychological development. We cannot interfere in the marital dispute of our neighbours – so says the Law. But the question is should we stand by and be an onlooker if one spouse is trying to slit the throat of the other? Should we interfere; where is our moral obligation? Are we not back to those religious battlefields where armies are gathered to wage war for a question of right and wrong? And as Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gita, unable to appreciate what is right or not hesitates to go to war against his own cousins, the Charioteer comes to his rescue and there followed the “Song Celestial”. All this just to tell us it is sometimes difficult to know what is right and wrong. Sam Harris, the neo- atheist, tells us more about the possibility of putting morality on a scientific stand, in his book ‘The Moral Landscape’, as to agree to a universal concept of right and wrong.
How we would like to sit at that bistro, that musical concert or that football match till the end of time — tolerating, appreciating and understanding others espousing a higher form of culture, without, however, having to rely on a war machine or weapon industry, or buying fossil fuels from the backyard of extremists or totalitarian regimes to support such a way of life. There could be no compromise on what is basically ‘wrong’.
Could we afford to be naïve?
* Published in print edition on 27 November 2015