I was working in my store when a daily customer who has become a friend in the last eighteen months walked in. We were having the usual small talk and suddenly the discussions shifted to religion and nationalism and it became obvious that our views were diametrically opposite to each other on the issue. While I have long time back adapted the life of a bird and have flown out of all boundaries created by religion and nation, here was a man who I had known as yet, for his daily jokes and ever smiling face, but was now completely livid, polarized and genuinely angry in defending ‘His’ nation and ‘His’ religion and was unacceptable to the fact that other divergent views may exist and that even they may have some validity.
When he left the first thing that came to my mind was that when a normal person from amongst us can get charged, exited and become intolerant on issues related to religion and nation and can risk long term relationships based on such issues, what effect could take place on people whose only focus is on these activities or who decide to spend their lifetime letting others know of the greatness ‘Their’ nation, ‘Their religion’ and ‘Their’ culture can offer to the world, if it prevails upon others.
Before the dust settles down on the likes of Osama Bin Laden or Andres Breivik it is important to understand whether these were ‘different born’ or just like one of us who could rise again from amongst us. In the words of Peter Svaav, a childhood friend of Breivik, Breivik was not an ISLAND in himself but just like us in his school days. He was intelligent, articulate and liked to interact with others. Then what made a normal, educated person with good background become a terrorist of such maniacal proportions ? Or for that matter, how could a rich, educated person of business background like Osama leave everything that builds a safety net and get drawn into a vortex of evil and destruction?
While we may distance ourselves from these terrorists and call them as aberrations, we have to realise that these products of hatred and intolerances rise from the society within and that they can rise again if we do not do something about these forces of mass destruction.
How come religion which was supposed to be our basic link to the divine forces or culture which were intended to draw people together and build communities become some of the biggest divisive forces of the modern society?
While we may consider our religion to be the purest and the best in the world and ‘Our’ God the ‘True’ God, is it too difficult to accept that the other person can think the same way about his religion?
While we may consider our nation to be truly upright and defended for, can’t we accept similar views from others?
While we may consider our traditions, culture and etiquettes to be the ‘Refined’ and ‘Best’ in the world, would not some others of different background think the same way about their culture?
It is a fact that while white is a colour normally wore by brides in the West on the occasion of their marriage, the same colour is taboo for brides in many South Asian and middle eastern countries on that occasion and in fact is supposed to be wore by ladies on ceremonies of death. Red is a colour of joy in one country while taboo in another to be used in daily life as it represents anger. So is one right and the other wrong?
The fact is that TRUTH is just a perception of mind or interpretation of factual happening. And when we continue to cringe ourselves to the leg of an elephant, we can only call an elephant a pillar and if the person who is clinging to its tail call it a rope, we will not accept and can become intolerant of his ridiculous views.
But does that change the elephant? Or does that make the elephant only the pillar or a rope? What can make us see the true picture of elephant? Not by accepting that only our view is the true view. But by listening to others who may see a tail, a trunk, an ear, et.al .. and accepting their views to build a complete picture.
That is what true multiculturalism could be about. When people come to new countries and do not continue to live in physical or mental ghettos created of the land left behind but show willingness to assimilate in their new communities. And in return the communities also do not accept them to change completely but accept also the differences that they bring. When different traditions, languages, religions, cultures mix and newer identities emerge. When there is a quest for greater knowledge, understanding and ideas that unfold when such societies develop.
It is a fact that in the global village this world is becoming, multiculturalism is here to stay in almost all corners of the world. That means if left unchecked, differences will also creep in and intolerances can build leading to eruptions in the form of volcanoes like Breivik.
It is time that we work on the intolerances that we build in within and look at each other as humans rather than representatives of some alien forces. Let the love for each other prevail over differences which will exist. That is the least that we own to our children.