Generally, a society is either pluralistic or monistic. In a pluralistic society, people belonging to a different faith, or sect and ethnic group live together in peace and harmony. The majority in the society subdues its prejudice and hatred to promote conciliation and tolerance. In such a society, there are multiple realities and truth, people tolerate each other and share religious and cultural activities.
On the other hand, in a monastic society, there is belief in one absolute truth. The majority rejects other realities and makes an attempt to dominate the society by excluding those who are not in its orbit.
In history, we find examples of both systems as well as the consequences of their implementation which were disastrous. In the subcontinent, the best example is of Ashoka (C.268 to 232 BCE), the Mauryan King, although he converted to Buddhism and issued edicts to preach religious tolerance and respect for other faiths. Under the influence of his policy of tolerance, he renounced violence and promoted peace and tranquility in his empire. He was successful in maintaining harmony and on the basis of this policy, he earned greatness in history. His policy transformed the society to a non-violent and peaceful one.
Instead of treating nations as a whole, sometimes masses take rights away from the minority and even order them killed
The other example is of Al-Andalus in the south of Spain, which was conquered by the Moors in 711 who founded a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. The Jews and the Christians enjoyed equality and freedom under the Muslim rule. They were appointed on high government posts and assigned trustworthy jobs. The result of this policy was that the followers of three religions worked together and produced excellent results in art, architecture, music and literature. During the Muslim rule, Al-Andalus enlightened Europe. However, the situation radically changed when in 1492, Christian powers of North Spain conquered the last Muslim state of Granada and destroyed the pluralistic society by either expelling the Jews and the Muslims from Spain or forcibly converting them into Christians. Hence pluralism was replaced by monism. The enlightenment of Andalus transformed to darkness. Religious discrimination, persecution and assertion of one absolute truth plunged the society into backwardness. Christian Spain paid a heavy price for its narrow-mindedness and religious prejudice.
After conquering different countries and nations, the Abbasid Caliphate realised that those who came under their rule should be respected and tolerated. Therefore during this period Baghdad, the capital, became the centre of Jewish activity as the Jews enjoyed full rights in the society to practice their religion and contribute to academic and literary activities. During the Abbasid rule the Jews, the Christians and the Indians were assigned the task of translating their literature into Arabic and Baghdad became the centre of learning and knowledge. This pluralistic society was disturbed when the Abbasid Caliphate became weak and other powers interfered and established their rule. Finally, the Mongols ended the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258.
In the subcontinent, following the policy of pluralism, the Mughals treated their subjects belonging to different religions and castes on the basis of equality. Both the Hindus and the Muslims shared their religious festivals. As a result, during this period, cultural activities peaked. The Mughal court accommodated talented people from every religion and patronised their creativity. This produced a composite culture known as Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb, a beautiful amalgamation of Hindu-Muslim traditions and norms.
However, societies which implemented a monastic policy, restricted social and cultural activities and forced people to follow one truth and reality. As a result, discrimination, hatred and rejection led to intellectual degeneration and decadence.
Considering these facts, when we analyse our society, we find that it rejects multiple realities and believes in one, absolute truth, while excluding and marginalising religious minorities. The majority of society asserts power and establishes tyranny over the minorities who are considered either heretic who should be converted either to the majority’s faith or brutally persecuted. The majority believes itself to be the rightly-guided people and justifies discrimination and exploitation of the minorities. Consequently, the majority lynches, burns their houses and dislocates their victims with a sense of honour and dignity, with no shame for their inhuman acts.
A similar attitude has been adopted in India after the election swith the BJP coming into power. The followers of BJP harass those who are not in favour of their ideology. In Bangladesh, the Monistic thought-process has led to hunting and killing of liberal and secular individuals and groups who are striving to make the society pluralist and liberal. Sadly, South Asia which was historically a plural society has turned monastic and rejected liberal and enlightened norms and cultural values to accommodate all kinds of people on the basis of equality.
Consequently, the entire region is fragmenting and plunging into anarchy and disorder. The tyranny of the majority remains unchallenged and as a result it becomes a brutal force to check and dismantle enlightened values. When an individual becomes a tyrant, one could fight against him and expel him from power, but when the majority becomes tyrannical, then it becomes a heftier challenge to deal with.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015