Saturday, August 20, 2005

Secularism as a Harmonizing Social Substrate

Around the world the conventional wisdom is that for people of differing religions to accommodate one another the social context must be secular. Secularism itself is seen as transcending sectarian religious belief, so that makes it the logical choice of society in which other sub-beliefs can be accommodated. Yet secularism, which is guided by empirical science, is unable to define a concept of the self that transcends the brute stuff of nature: atoms, molecules, and other natural phenomena. And because secularism is also a belief about who we really are, instead of being an accommodating social subtrate for other beliefs it becomes yet another belief--one among many--that has to compete with the rest. That would explain why it was ulitmately unacceptable that the secular Congress party of India represent the interests of Muslims in Kashmir.

However, they [Kashmiri Muslims] had limited room for manoeuvre, tied as they were to political events and discourse in India. Zutshi shows persuasively how Sheikh Abdullah, a popular leader of Kashmir Muslims against the Hindu maharajah, ended up allying himself with the Hindu-dominated Congress party and its rhetoric of secularism in independent India. A secular nationalist platform was better able to accommodate regional and religious diversity within Jammu and Kashmir, and so it was a convenient means to achieve power. It also helped maintain a moral advantage over political opponents, who could be discredited as rank "communalists".

But Abdullah's expedient secularism subordinated Kashmir to a distant power in Delhi; and it denied citizenship rights to Kashmiri Muslims while asking them to give up their loyalty to their regional and religious groupings. No wonder that most Kashmiris resented this bargain and that Sheikh Abdullah became a hated figure among the young, educated Muslims who began the anti-India insurgency in 1989. (Mishra)

Essentially the Kashmiri Muslims rejected a definition of the self inherent in the secularism on which the Congress party was intellectually founded. In the face of powerful global forces which are behind a revival of religion in the world, secular ideology eventually had to give way to radicalized forms of religion. Samuel Huntington notes that globalization creates a vacuum in self-identity that religion is well suited to fill.
Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change throughout the world are separating people from long-standing local identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity. In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in the form of movements that are labeled "fundamentalist." Such movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most religions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, college-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business persons. The "unsecularization of the world," George Weigel has remarked, "is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twentieth century." The revival of religion, "la revanche de Dieu," as Gilles Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations. (Huntington 2)
Note that the Kashmiri Muslims who rallied around radical Islam tended to be educated, just as Mohammed Atta and the other World Trade Center bombers were also educated. Radical Islam is as much about finding an identity that transcends the metaphysically empty secularism on which modern globalism is founded. This indicates that any social substrate that can accommodate a tamed form of Islam must necessarily have metaphysical substance and be able to accommodate differing expressions of religious beliefs.

On a practical and immediate level, if true, this would suggest that the Iraqi constitution, if it fails, will fail for metaphysical reasons if not for anything else.

Works Cited

Huntington, Samuel. "The clash of civilizations?" Foreign Affairs. New York: Summer 1993. Online 20 Aug 2005. <>
Mishra, Pankaj. "Valley of the shadows." (A review of Mridu Rai's "Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects: Islam, rights and the history of Kashmir.") 30 Aug 2004. The New Statesman. 20 Aug 2005. <>


Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Off-topic --

We just got a comment at a Gates of Vienna post that might interest you. It's by "Sumanth", and here it is in its entirety:
Do you know that Indian Legal system is worse than Taliban law ?

Do you know that 90% of dowry suits are false ?

Do you know that more innocent women suffer under Indian Anti-dowry law than innocent men ?

The Media and pseudo-liberals are brainwashing the people in India.
(More details)

11:53 AM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger krishna_kirti said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Baron. I'll mosey on over to GoV in the evening to jump in--I've got a lot to say about Sumnath's comment, and on the posting itself, too.

Something's up when you've got a non-self-loathing Hindu defending Muslims (even if its kind of defending them).

1:17 PM, August 22, 2005  
Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Well, I like to see a Hindu put up a vigorous cultural self-defense, even if it also sort of defends Muslims...

I noticed that it is a topic about which I know virtually nothing.

4:14 AM, August 23, 2005  

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