The Candid Eye

July 19, 2009

Gita on Fighting Terrorism

Filed under: Hinduism,Islam,Jihad — thecandideye @ 6:29 AM
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A wonderful article by Rajiv Malhotra on Bhagavad Gita and its relevence in fighting terrorism in today’s world…

*****Excerpts from the article *****

In the Bhagavad Gita, God appears in human form as Krishna, to guide Arjuna in the fight / don’t fight dilemma that Arjuna faces. What might this 18 chapter holiest of the Hindu scriptures teach us in the dilemma we now face concerning global terrorism? Krishna’s advice fits neither of the two extremes that are presently dominating the media debate: at one end are the majority of Americans who promote revenge against the terrorists as a notion of justice — an eye for an eye. At the other end is a minority of anti-war activists who want no violence, and instead advocate that the US should take the blame for having caused hatred against itself. The Gita’s message rejects both these. Its short-term message for this situation pertains to the ethics of war, and its long-term message calls for systemic changes required by both Islam and the West in order to harmonize humanity.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna

Lord Krishna and Arjuna

Dharmic War

Krishna scolds Arjuna for his initial attitude of abandonment, saying that there is a global evil that must be dealt with; Arjuna is the best qualified one to fight this evil given his training, capabilities, and position. This is God’s work and not his own. By analogy, one could argue that the US must play Arjuna’s role, being positioned as the only superpower and having the resources to carry this out. In Hindu dharma, a ruler has the obligation to protect the public from such menaces, and to abandon this role would be irresponsible. God’s advice to Arjuna is: “Engage in battle with equanimity and without getting overwhelmed by the extremes of joy and sorrow, gain and loss, and thus you won’t incur sin.”

The Gita does not condone indiscriminate “carpet bombing.” Since karma is individual and merit based, there cannot be racial profiling against anyone. It is also made clear in the Gita that Arjuna has nothing personal to gain from winning. He does not seek power, wealth, fame or glory. Hence, it is not an act to be carried out by the ego and must be free of selfish motives. Applying this to the present dilemma, there are some implications:

 The US should not focus on ending only the terrorism that is against the US, but rather, it should deal equally with all terrorism that hurts anyone in the world, including remote corners where the US does not perceive a direct selfish interest at this time. Everything is totally interconnected as per Indian cosmogony, and there is no morality in segregating the US’s selfish interests from the interests of humanity at large. Unfortunately, Senator Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, amongst other policymakers, has defined the area of US interests to be from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia, which means that the Indian subcontinent’s Islamic terrorism remains a blind spot.

The US cannot aid terrorists one year by classifying them as freedom fighters against an US enemy, and fight them the next year when they turn sour.

Dharmic War is not Jihad

It is also important to contrast the message of the Gita with that of jihad, since some western scholars have tried to draw similarities: 

The Gita’s call to Arjuna is not against a country that is a thousand miles away and that has never in its history threatened anyone militarily. Moderate Muslim interpretations state that jihad is an internal fight against evil within, thereby denying the Taliban’s legitimacy. There is merit to this claim. However, for 1300 years, a great many individuals, societies and rulers have interpreted jihad as a license to kill infidels and as a mandate to expand. The 7th century invasion of Sindh (India) by Arabs was explicitly celebrated as jihad, and history is filled with one wave of Islamic plunder of India after another. The Taliban’s atrocities look benign by comparison. These Islamic jihads, such as by Mohammed of Ghazni, Ghauri, and all the way down to Aurungzeb, were not rationalized by the conquerors as a fight against any threat or based on any dispute. Rather, these were justified as wars to kills infidels and to destroy their idols. Therefore, attempts to rationalize terrorism by blaming US and Israeli policies ignore the history of jihad that precedes the existence of the United States and Israel.

Islam Versus Islam

The Gita’s dharma is built on profound self-examination. Professor Akbar Ahmad, as quoted in Newsweek recently, says that the clash of civilizations is a clash between Islam and Islam — the liberals versus the fundamentalists. Islamic scholars need to introspect about fashioning Islam for democratic, secular and pluralistic times, and should take on social reforms seriously. Islam’s history has had some such voices of progress, but these were often dominated by radical elements opposed to pluralism and modernity.

We must remember Emperor Akbar who utilized India’s tradition of interfaith debate and cross-fertilization, to facilitate dialogs between Hindu and Muslim scholars. This resulted in spiritual innovation and syncretism of new Hindu-Muslim hybrid theologies and sociologies. India became the ground of the most progressive Islam in the world. His grandson, Dara Shikoh, the heir to the Mughal throne, was an eminent scholar of Sanskrit and Hindu texts, having personally translated the Gita and the Upanishads into Persian. His vision was to have a Hindu-Muslim harmonious society of mutual respect. However, he was murdered by his younger brother, Aurungzeb.

The oppressive rule by Aurungzeb was the longest rule amongst all Mughal rulers, in which he planted the seeds of communal hatred and the eventual collapse of the Mughal Empire at the hands of a small number of British traders. Aurungzeb’s killing of Dara Shikoh was the defining moment in the history of the Indian subcontinent, with far-reaching effects till today. This Hindu-Muslim history offers many lessons on dharma and the playing out of the karma that was created.

Read the entire article here.

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