Monday, August 28, 2006

Earth's devastation

Originally posted on Saturday, July 29, 2006

I am including a comment in response to this post that does a really good job of completing the thoughts I started while in a very emotional state; I hope this helps articulate what I was thinking and feeling more completely.

I just watched Deepa Mehta's film Earth. It is about a Parsee family in Lahore at the time of India's independence and the partition. I am completely emotionally devastated. I don't know what it is about cultural story lines that cut me to the quick, but I feel so affected by this story. The millions of people forced to flee their homes because of religion and geopolitics, the millions injured, and the over a million killed. Proud, beautiful people whose only crime was being from the wrong place once it was August 15, 1947. If your religion didn't match the city or state you were in once the country was divided up during partition, you were marked: dead, dying, or fleeing. The merciless wanton violence that turned friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor is the shame of humanity.

Watching this film was an intensely personal experience for me. I felt like I was there, discovering the train from Gurdaspur, filled with the mutilated bodies of dead Muslims, trying to escape anarchy and reach their families or refugee camps. I could smell the fear around me, remembering the future as if it were the past; knowing with a leaden heart that faith based killings, especially on trains, would haunt Indias future despite democracy, nuclear weapons, globalization or economic prosperity. Forty years later, this movie was protested so widely in India that places banned it. Movie theaters were burnt down by extremists to ensure that this film could not be shown.

The souls, names, faces and lives of innocent people mean nothing when money and colonialism is involved. The British raped and exploited India, leaving her with a severe case of survivor's guilt. So what did India do? Hurt herself. She cut at herself, within herself, as her Hindu, Muslim and Sikh parts did their best to kill her. For fifty nine years, the very veins of India, her streets, have writhed with the pain of memory, reliving the trauma and violation with blood spilled on every corner, and the resentment and fear that resides in every heart.

Are we all so mired to the groups we come from that we must kill to maintain the status quo and defend the purity and superiority of these groups? Will the educated ever prevail over the disgusting blood lust that seems to lie in our deepest Id? It is merely an accident of time and place that I wasn't there, that my family wasn't one of the many forced to choose between an attempt at survival and the lives they had known and led their entire lives. Why is humanity doomed to repeat this over and over? Murder, rape and arson- why are these the first products of anarchy? The evil in people seems to overpower all else. Those men who rape and pillage will burn in the depths of hell. All men who use their religion to exact revenge or terror on others are the worst kind of people.

This free will God gave us- how many have suffered and died at its hand? I love my God, but what difference does it make if we marry outside of our religious boundaries? Don't more partitions make us worse people? Humanity flourishes with variety, with diversity, with choice, with education, with REASON. Why do religion and reason never seem to co-habitate? Is a book worth the blood of people? The honor and virtue of countless women and girls? The orphaning and widowing and scarring of individual people, of whole peoples of subjugated nations? To me, I see a pattern:

Religion doesn't equal Reason
Reason doesn't equal Radicalism
Religion is lesser or equal to Radicalism

Themindframe's posted comments:

I really need to see this movie. From your blog, it seems to be a testament of the pain and suffering so many innocent people have gone through. Something most of us in the West are completely unaware of.Your blog raises a number of points worth exploring.To me, the problem lies not with religion, but with those so called leaders who use religion as a way to incite violence for their own gains. Granted, me saying this is the easy way out. But I really, truly believe that the harm comes when religion is used as a weapon to prod people into mindless action.

Our deen preaches submission to Allah, but it also promotes understanding, respect, and compassion for others. Its something that other faiths do as well. The problem comes when religion is stripped off its purpose and becomes a spark to ignite other tensions and fractions among people. India,like just about every other colonized territory, suffers deeply from what the survivors guilt that you mention. One of the manifestations is the self-loathing and the self-hating that allows its own people to turn on one another because of whatever labels have been exploited. The issue is not only Indians seeing themselves as Pakistanis, or Bengalis. The problem is that people recognize themselves and others as such, and hate because of it. One of the biggest crimes, and the longest running tragedy, coming from colonialism is that it destroyed any sense of pride in individuals, in communities, in entire nations. People hated and feared their colonizers until what was left was the desire to colonize others to get rid of the pain inflicted upon them.

Oppression takes many forms. Put down people long enough and the only way the will feel tall is by standing on the heads of others. Even if that other is their own reflection. Socioeconomic injustice is just as much to blame for what happened in India (and I could be completely wrong writing this without knowing much of the history and without seeing the film). People are destitute, in materialistic, spiritual and personal ways, to the point where the situation became a zero-sum dynamic:Your loss is my gain.

Humanity is moved to repeat these catastrophes because the oppression and the forces used to keep people down will continue to be effective in inciting those afflicted to strike one another. This might seem paradoxical coming from a soldier, but humanity needs to move beyond the striving to be better than the others. I really feel that violence and anarchy do not go together, but when people have been stripped of their self-worth, of their identity, of their livelihood, of the pride in their existence, it is more than possible to have violence occur. It is to be expected. Religion does not equal reason.No argument there. Religion requires faith. Reason requires evidence.But religion and reason, in their pure terms, go side by side. Religion breeds Radicalism when it becomes distorted, used and corrupted to serve the wants and plans of those lusting after power.

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