WE are now into the month of Ramazan, a period of piety and self-reflection for Muslims, though one can’t tell that by the unravelling of the mayhem in Pakistan. It is reassuring, however, that the war drums in Yemen have gone silent. Someone has found the wisdom at last to suspend the daily horrors of death and deprivation inflicted on fellow humans in exchange for peace and prayers ushered in by the holy month — tentatively for two months but, with luck, for all time to come.
Ramazan this year coincides with the Great Lent, as observed by the Orthodox Christians that a majority of Ukrainians and Russians are. Other Christians also observe the period but the days are slightly different. The 40-day stretch marks a sombre meditation on the sacrifices of Jesus Christ, and it ends with Easter, celebrated to remind the faithful of his resurrection.
The fratricidal war in Yemen at least had the sham of an ideological rift between two sects of Muslims. The war in Ukraine doesn’t have the fig leaf. Not only have the guns not been silenced, the brutality is fanned daily by a host of vested interests. Clearly, the vendors of death in Ukraine are the same as those who fuelled the conflict in Yemen, only with the ring-view seats here, not unlike the Roman elite in the Coliseum that applauded a bloody duel.
The discovery of bodies in Bucha near Kiev is only a small peep into the brutality inflicted in the fratricide. Given Ukraine’s tragic loss of lives and destroyed homes, it’s useful to remember that the sanctity of life cannot be graded as Russian or Ukrainian, as more precious or less. Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Congo, Kashmir and Afghanistan should never have been the blind spots of morality they became.
There are as many sides in the battlefield as there are merchants of weapons.
Take a sample from Yemen. According to UN estimates at the end of 2021, the cynical war around the strategic Horn of Africa would have caused over 377,000 deaths, with 60 per cent of them being the result of hunger, lack of healthcare and unsafe water. The situation makes it one of the most devastated regions in the world. More than 10,000 children were killed or wounded as a direct result of the fighting waged with lethal weapons plied to mediaeval dictators in the name of liberty and democracy.
Could it be that the arms bazar has shifted to a potentially more lucrative location — Europe itself? It would be insincere to not see the reality in which a newly unsheathed arsenal of weapons and counter weapons is slaughtering people at will in the European theatre. There are as many sides in the battlefield as there are merchants of weapons, including those who may be piously fasting. That the duel is being waged between people who share a bittersweet history and a common church cannot be missed.
It’s nobody’s secret that the two main sides in the conflict are in need of keeping their lethal factories looking for new clients. Currently, it’s advantage West, though not necessarily for a better inventory of new-fangled killing machines. Its wares are better advertised, not without a little help from an openly embedded media.
In Hollywood war movies, the Germans were made to look like bumbling idiots. They are more popular than the rival versions that show Americans and Britons as equally dumb. Russian tanks are being blown up in the daily news, and James Bond-like technological wizardry is the fare.
Just as Ramazan is to Muslims a period of piety and self-reflection, there are similar forms of observances in other great religions. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and the Christians have their own methods of fasting and prayers. While the pause in fighting in Yemen will have brought badly needed succour to its civilians and combatants, Ukraine seems condemned to wait needlessly for respite from its nightmare.
There’s no religious mandate for wars or battles to be suspended during Ramazan, though this has been the convention in recent times. Even India had once suspended military operations in Kashmir, ostensibly to give breathing space to Muslim civilians caught in the crossfire. On the other hand, the so-called Islamic State has used the breach to launch attacks on fellow Muslims during Ramazan.
The Guardian noted the other day that hundreds of Orthodox Christian clergy, scholars and lay people slammed the complicity of the Russian Orthodox Church in the invasion of Ukraine. Their démarche condemned Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in particular for providing theological cover to the cynical invasion. Kirill, according to The Guardian’s editorial, described Mr Putin’s leadership as a religious miracle, and as bombs devastated Ukrainian cities, he was proclaiming it as “God’s truth”, thus signalling to the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to unite as one spiritual people.
It’s not clear whether the Ukrainian resistance had also dipped into its religious reserves to rally combatants against invading troops, though there is a well-recognised racist fringe at work there too. Clearly, religion can be seen as a double-edged sword. The temptation for its use overwhelmed the Ukrainian envoy to New Delhi recently who pleaded with his Indian listeners to oppose Putin whom he likened to Muslim invaders of predominantly Hindu India. Sadly for the envoy, pro-government sadhus and nationalist TV anchors, not without a nudge from the political minders, preferred to rail against the US in tones hitherto associated with the pulpits in Pakistan and Iran.
The month of piety and introspection has not deterred the politicians of Pakistan either from wading into an unseemly, if not entirely unfamiliar, political mess. Former rivals have united against the Imran Khan government, which has sought to pre-empt a no-trust vote it would have lost by controversially dissolving parliament. Whose Eid will be more joyous would have little to do with the sacred month of self-purification and fasting. Pray for Ukraine, as Faiz would say, even if you don’t know how to.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2022