In our quest for peace and harmony
Sadly, there is no easy road to peace and harmony. We need the sustained liberal framework first both socially and in the state structure. All the enlightened should work for that for as we know first things first. A gradual evolution is always preferable as it minimises reactionary effects; nevertheless, it is vital to impede conservative wing onslaught so that they don’t seize initiatives and start setting agendas, writes Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury
PEACE is a relative notion. ‘Absolute peace’ is, perhaps, a utopian concept. Yet, we desire complete peace. We need peace for our exceedingly precious safety and for the healthy growth of our lives and our loved ones. We all want to explore our human potential and relish the optimum expression of it. That can happen only if peace prevails. We know that explicitly and bear that in our subconscious self.
Instead, what we get are ever increasing hostility and malicious prejudice. It seems that the whole of the humanity is in an insane rush for individual or collective arrogance, power and influence; as if no one is ready to hold back for a few moments and contemplate ‘what ideally ought to be’, ‘what we should expect’ and ‘what should we render’. Peace appears to be ever elusive.
The more we look around us the more we see things that we don’t want to see in this world. There are surely peaceful corners or even peaceful regions in the world perhaps at certain times. But the modern destruction and bloodbath is too vivid to be overlooked and they, regretfully, cast a shadow on the good things that happen quietly.
It is apparent that human beings don’t yet have agreements on fundamental human values and social ethics. The problem is acute in developing societies like Bangladesh. We live in modern time and the modern thoughts, which are essentially humane and liberal than the ancient ones are underpinned by ‘common sense’ or ‘rationality’. It grew around 17th and 18th century in Europe as a remedy to the confrontational legacy. A ‘remedy to conflict’ is everybody’s need since clashes and sufferings occur everywhere in this world.
Thus, the mankind found the concepts that brought about some normalcy, peace and stability. Sovereignty, republic, freedom, nation, equality and other ideas came to being progressively. Democracy and secularism eventually joined the rally. Secularism defined the boundaries between the state and religion. Popular sovereignty put power in the hands of people as a replacement for divinely ordained monarchs and ecclesiastical heads. Ideas like freedom of thoughts and freedom of expression provided the space to think and speak one’s mind without fear. These are inseparable parts of individual freedom that allows people to act freely without harming others. The value of tolerance renders equal rights to different groups of people, including minorities, to live peacefully preserving their identities and beliefs as they wish. Civil liberty negates the evil of a repressive state.
Coming back to secularism, which is profoundly intertwined with tolerance, is a comprehensive concept. The latter advocates for peaceful coexistence and promotes harmony, the desired end state. Secularism settles things between a modern state and established religions and other spiritual opinions on the basis of non-interference or equal treatment for them and their corresponding communities or individuals. Again secularism isn’t just about a majority community and the minorities; it is also about various sects and opinions within a religious community and outside. All have the equal rights. The ideals of tolerance socially supplements secularism and thwart majoritarian tendencies. Many have no clear understanding of the fundamental differences between democracy and majoritarianism. Democracy has its imperative tenets that never discriminates any citizen. Anything and everything cannot be done in the name of majority.
Secularism has nothing against any religion. It just intends to prevent conflicts among communities or groups that could arise and avoid social unrest. It’s a fair deal for those who are religious as they can freely practice their faith. It preserves the fundamental rights of others who have different spiritual opinions; who choose to believe as per their choices or do not believe and act or express accordingly. One can be deeply spiritual without being traditionally religious. We also know about great human values of many atheists. Secularism may not be an acceptable proposition for fanatics who want to impose their preconceived shallow world views on all others. They don’t realise that a free mind is never enslaved. The great ideas and inventions that serve mankind, including the detractors of freedom, are the gifts of free thinking. The free thinkers were persecuted in Medieval Europe and elsewhere. Do we see history repeat itself, after so many centuries, in human societies now?
Unfortunately, in our society, we have immoral people, with their selfish agendas, who constantly demonise secular principles with malicious allegations. They are to be countered and unmasked. Again there are naïve laymen and young people who fall prey to the evil design of immoral individuals or groups indulging in hatred and violence. The associated fanatic preachers constantly pour venom in the ears of their disciples against other faiths and against open-minded or creative people. The exploiting syndicates search for every remote clue, which otherwise would have received little attention, to make up a case and create a divulgence from the real issues. The naïve are persistently fed distorted and blown up information. Large numbers of juveniles are being brain washed in primitive institutions.
It’s important to educate all these poor victims and create a freer environment for their unbiased learning. These issues need to be included in public discourses aimed at mass awareness regarding the merits of secularism and tolerance and the vice of fanaticism. Education of tolerance should start from the family. Educational institutes need to teach lessons on all liberal values. Only then we will turn into a progressive society. Peace and harmony would ensue naturally.
In the meantime, brute forces of fanaticism causing violence should be handled with strength and sustained resolve and with the mixture of soft power when appropriate. The fanatics exploit the tenderness of the liberals to eliminate liberalism. They use democracy to destroy democracy.
We don’t need to be like the Western totality. We have many norms and customs, of our own, not in contradiction with freedom and progress. Yet there are, at the least, some basic human values that appeal to senses of all rational persons across the cultural cleavages.
Sadly, there is no easy road to peace and harmony. We need the sustained liberal framework first both socially and in the state structure. All the enlightened should work for that for as we know first things first. A gradual evolution is always preferable as it minimises reactionary effects; nevertheless, it is vital to impede conservative wing onslaught so that they don’t seize initiatives and start setting agendas. The liberals should also be careful not to be manipulated by pseudo-liberals, who seek to attain their own material ends.
There is no issue as the religious returns to his prayers and live a devout life and the others do what they spiritually prefer. Upholding the right of the religious is also the duty of a liberal irrespective of the latter being religious or otherwise. But all must know one’s rights end when he/she infringes others’ rights. Here is the relevance of the ideals of secularism and tolerance. Peace and harmony dwell in these virtues.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is a freelance contributor. He recently studied political sociology and development in School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was an army officer and a UN peacekeeper before that. email@example.com
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