This volume studies secularism in a cluster of developing countries in Asia and Eastern Europe, all with histories of multiculturalism and religious strife. It examines the roots of the secular principle in the society, politics, law, literature, and media of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia. It further investigates the current threats to secularism, and lists the options before national and international institutions to defuse them.
The crisis of secularism in contemporary India is an important theme in the volume. The essays present an understanding of the manner in which India developed its peculiar variant of secularism. They analyse the complex social processes by which intended violence against some groups get transformed into aggression against others in times of communal tension. In addition to a historical.
Retrospective on religion and secularism in the subcontinent, there is also a discussion on whether Pakistan can ever become the secular state that Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted it to be.
Some questions of current global significance are addressed through discussions on other societies: the implications in Indonesia of demands by radical Islamists to impose the Sharia on the post-Soeharto state; the Turkish experiment of accommodating Islamic ideals in a parliamentary republic, and the connection with the disintegration of Yugoslavia; and the weakening of secularism and strengthening of bonds between religion and nationalism.
The collection discusses issues of widespread concern in time dominated by ethno-cultural conflicts and Islamist extremism around the world. Timely and topical, it will interest students and scholars of politics, international relations, religion, and history. The interested lay reader too will find it engaging.
T. N. Srinivasan is Samuel C. Park, Jr Professor of Economics, Yale university, USA.
The Oxford Universal Dictionary defines 'secularism' as a doctrine of moral philosophy which holds that 'morality should be based on regard to the well-being of mankind in the present life, to the exclusion of all consideration from belief in God or in a future state.' Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, offers a similar definition of secularism in philosophy as the belief 'that life can be best lived by applying ethics, and the universe best understood by processes of reasoning, without reference to a god or gods or other supernatural concepts.' It attributes this definition to George Jacob Holyoake (English Secularism, 1896) and views him as one of the precursors of the contemporary doctrine of secular humanism. It goes on to add that in society, secularism means 'any or a range of situations where a society less automatically assumes religious beliefs to be either widely shared or a basis for conflict in various forms, than in recent generations of the same society. In this sense, secularism is linked to the sociological concept of secularization and may be upheld as an academic thesis, rather than advocated as a desirable stare of affairs.' And in government, 'a policy of avoiding entanglement between government and religion (ranging from reducing ties to a state church to promoting secularism in society), of non-discrimination among religions (providing they do not deny primacy of civil laws), and of guaranteeing human rights of all citizens, regardless of the creed (and, if conflicting with certain religious rules, by imposing priority of the universal human rights).' While nothing that secularism can also mean the practice of working to promote socialism in philosophy, society or government, it cautions that an advocate of secularism in one sense need not be its advocate in the other two senses. Moreover, secularism as a philosophical doctrine is not necessarily the same as atheism nor does it preclude philosophical realists from being religious.
It is evident that belief in secularism as a philosophical doctrine does not preclude belief in the existence of one or more gods nor does it imply that ethics derived from pure reasoning independent of any reference to god(s) or religions(s) would necessarily be in conflict with values derived form religions. It is also evident that only an extremely narrow interpretation of secularism would confine it exclusively to the private sphere and exclude it altogether from having any role in the public sphere of politics and government.
Noah Feldman (New York time Magazine, 3 July 2005), points out that the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended religious wars in Europe formally enshrined the very long-held assumptions that the official religion of the state was that of its ruler, so that each region would have its own religion, namely, that of its sovereign: for example, since Henry VIII to this day, the monarch of England is also the head of the Anglican Church. Feldman argues that this model of church and state was profoundly disturbed by the radical idea-emanating from the American Revolution-that people were sovereign; since a religiously diverse but sovereign people by definition cannot have a single religion as official religion, a new understanding of church and state was called for and framers of the American Constitution designed a state (national government) that had no established religion at all. The First Amendment to the Constitution made explicit that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Feldman observes that 'the non-establishment of religion, with a simultaneous guarantee of its free exercise was an elegant solution but not a complete one. Generation after generation, fresh infusions of religious diversity into American life have brought with them original ideas about church and state-new answers to the challenge of preserving the unity of the sovereign people in the face of their flourishing spirited variety and often conflicting beliefs.' He characterizes (Feldman 2005: 31) the contemporary church-state debate in American life as being dominated by two camps. The first, which he calls 'value evangelicals', contends that 'the right answers to government policy must come from the wisdom of religious tradition' (lbid.). this camp argues that government should be secular and the laws should make it so. The American project, if it can be described as such, aimed to create a nation with a common identity and objectives while welcoming and sustaining religious diversity. Feldman argues the although both camps claim to share the goal of reconciling national unity and religious diversity and differ in the means for achieving it, neither lived up to its own expectations. The conflict between the two is becoming a political and a constitutional crisis on its own.
In the twentieth century, a number of countries with significant ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity made a conscious attempt to insulate the state and the public sphere from the private practice of religion through the establishment of secular states. After the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I, Kemal Ataturk imposed a secular state in Turkey. After World War II, countries which were otherwise different in their political frameworks, adopted secular constitutions on achieving independence. Three prime examples are the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia, and the former Yugoslavia. British colonial India was partitioned into India (with a large Hindu majority and a significant [10 per cent] Muslim minority population) and the Islamic state of Pakistan, with a very small non-Muslim population. Pakistan consisted of two wings, West Pakistan and a culturally and linguistically distinct East Pakistan, separated by more than 1000 miles of Indian territory, India became a secular democracy. East Pakistan split from West Pakistan after a civil war in 1971 to become Bangladesh which, unlike what remained of Pakistan, did not continue to be an Islamic state.
A common thread running through all these examples is, in effect, the imposition of secularism in societies and polities in which it apparently had no deep rots by charismatic leaders (Ataturk in Turkey, Nehru in India, Soekarno in Indonesia, Rehman in Bangladesh, and Tito in Yugoslavia), albeit with varying degrees of support in their own political movements. In the case of Pakistan,, interestingly and ironically, the President of the Muslim League and Pakistan's first Governor-General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was instrumental in getting India partitioned along religious lines, was a secular Muslim. Yet having fought for Pakistan on the ground that Hindus and Muslims were separate nations who needed their own states to realize their potential, he had no alternative but to create Pakistan as an Islamic state. The parallel with secular Jews establishing a non-secular Jewish state of Israel is striking.
With some exaggeration, one could say that secularism was a foreign, largely western, element introduced within the body politic of most of these countries. One of the fundamental questions is to what extent the secular model should be viewed as a norm and an ultimate objective for non-western societies. Was it indeed the case, as has been argued by many, that the western model of a secular state, as it evolved in the post-Enlightenment era, necessarily was not applicable to the rest of the world? If it was not, there was a distinct possibility that a non-western society would reject it sooner or later.
In the description of the background to the four-year initiative of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies to examine the subject of religion and its impact on aspects of modernity as a source of political, economic, and cultural breakdown and regeneration, it is suggested that in the western tradition, modernity, regarded as the post-Enlightenment emphasis on rationality, is often viewed as inherently and inevitably in conflict with religion. In such a view, manifestations of modernity such as secularism, rationalism, and liberalism, have gained the ground occupied by religion in premodern society. Extremist versions of organized religion remain diametrically in conflict with modernity, particularly its secularist, rationalist, and scientific aspects, as well as a liberal lifestyle.
At the down of the twenty-first century, secularism is under great threat in many countries. Apart from the possible incompatibility of the western concept of secularism with non-western cultures, another force undermining secularism, and strengthening non-secular elements, was geopolitics. In its was against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the US recruited and armed the so-called Mujahideen, consisting of Afghans, Pakistanis, and national of other Muslim countries, many of whom were religious fundamentalists. The rise of the Taliban with the support o Pakistan and its inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was one of the outcomes of the Afghan war. Another outcome of the Afghanistan becoming the refuge and base for Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda. Indeed, the rise of religious fundamentalism within the armed force of Pakistan is in part a legacy of the war and in part of the use of religion by the then US-supported military dictator Zia ul Haq. The US, in its battle against global terrorism after 9/11, seems to conflate this battle in Indonesia with the Indonesian state's quite different battles with separatist movements such as the one in its Aceh region.
The fall of the atheistic Soviet empire, to which it defeat in Afghanistan was a contributor, has spawned, as yet weak, religious movements in some of its Muslim republics. The violent disintegration of Yugoslavia into ethnic entities, though not directly related to it, followed the fall of the Soviet empire. Whether Soekarno's daughter, Megawati, the president of Indonesia, will be able to fight off the threats to secularism there is an open question.
After the decline of Nehru's Congress party and its hold on the central government in India, and the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the future of secularism in India also seems to be in doubt. The events in Gujarat during which thousands, of which a large majority were Muslims, died as a result of communal carnage is a pointer. The BJP government in power at the time of the violence was headed by Narendra Modi who, it has been alleged, did little to control the violence, if not actively promote it. Following the violence, the legislature of the state was dissolved and election to replace it were held in December 2002. The BJP, with Modi as its leader, was re-elected with a much larger majority. In the electoral campaign, the BJP campaigned on its platform of promoting 'Hindutva', which it describes as 'nationalism and Indianness' and which others describe as narrow 'Hinduness'. Although the BJP could not repeat its success in Gujarat in the elections that followed in Himachal Pradesh, with elections due in the near future in many more states, election to the national parliament due in less than two years, and with the BJP promising to repeat its Gujarat campaign in the rest of the nation, the threat to secularism in India is frightening. The continuing violence in Jammu and Kashmir, even after the taking of office of a new government (committed to peace and dialogue with all groups elected in what is generally regarded as reflecting free and fair elections), and the alleged abetting of violence by Pakistan, do not augur well for secularism.
In Pakistan, the one secular army and civil service are now increasingly sympathetic to religious fundamentalists. Whether the government of President Musharraf will be able to keep the fundamentalists (and terrorists among them) in check is open to doubt, now that many Taliban and Al Qaeda elements have slipped into Pakistan. In Bangladesh also, the influence of religious fundamentalism seems to be rising. In Sri Lanka, the ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, which has cost many lives, has a religious undertone as well-the Sinhalese are overwhelimingly Buddhist, while the Tamils are largely Hindu but also include some Muslims. Elsewhere, the political power o the religious and orthodox parties in Israel is very significant, although it is hard to say whether it is rising. Fundamentalist Christian churches seem to be increasing their influence in parts of Africa. In contrast, there are signs of a return to some form of secularism other than the western type in Iran.
The South Asian Studies Council at Yale University with the support of the Council on Middle Eastern at Yale University, with the support of the Council on Middle Eastern Studies and the Council on Southeast Asian Studies organized a one day international conference during 26-27 March 2004. the conference was to explore in part the following question:
1. How deep or shallow were secularism's roots in the countries involved, by examining the trends in secularism in social, political, legal, and administrative organs, and culture (including literature and academic institutions and media)?
2. Whether the threat to secularism is a passing phenomenon or a deep-seated on?
3. Does the threat extend beyond secularism to economic liberalism and globalization?
4. Viable options for national and international institutions (government and non-governmental) to defuse the threat.
This volume consists of papers presented at the conference, an additional paper on Indonesia, as well as comments by the discussants on some of them. It is organized into parts. Par I, the longest, consists of papers relating to India and Pakistan by Jagdish Bhagwati, Rajeev Bhargava with a comment by Faisal Devji, Dilip Menon, Romila Thapar with a comment by Shyam Sunder, Lamin Sanneh, and Fakir Syed Aijazuddin with a comment by Mahmood Monshipouri. Part II is devoted to two papers on Indonesia, one by Goenawan Mohamed with a comment by Ben Kiernan, and another by M. Syafi'I Anwar. Part III consists of two papers, one on Turkey by Nur Yalman with a comment by Abbas Amanat, and the other on former Yogoslavia by Amila Buturovic with a comment by Michael Holquist.
The papers present a side range of views and perspectives. It is impossible to summarize such a rich set of ideas and debates without losing most of its content and vitality. I will not attempt to do so. I leave it to the reader to savour the rich fare.
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