Blind and stupid and savage - Ardeshir Cowasjee - January 23, 2011

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MY generation and the one that followed have much to answer for. But we cannot, because it is now too late. We let things slip and slide.

We supported the wrong leaderships for the wrong reasons, or we acquiesced silently. We had benefits that today’s youth lack — we were given a liberal education by those who were amply qualified to impart it. We were taught the tenets of tolerance, of live and let live and of doing unto others as you wish they would do unto you.

But we lost it. We failed the nation, and most of all we failed the creed of the man who made this nation and who set out for us, and for those who were to legislate and rule, the manner and style in which he intended the country he had created to be run. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was let down with a big bang, mostly by those who lorded it over the nation when he was dead and gone. But, maybe unwittingly (and I would like to think so), we did our part. We had no prescience. Over the decaying decades we failed to foresee the dangers under our noses and the ever-increasing dangers that lay ahead.

All this has been on my mind for a long time but was brought home by an email message from a young reader who had read my last column on some of Jinnah’s sayings. “Where we are today, we deserve it 100 per cent,” he wrote. “And it’s not because of our generation. Where were you when Ayub defeated Fatima Jinnah in the elections? Where were you when Bhutto [and others] bartered away half the country [and parliament decreed who was or was not a Muslim]?

Where was your generation when Zia introduced this warped ideology? I’ll answer that: nowhere. Because of the cowardice of your generation, I and a lot of others find ourselves in distant lands to gain liberty and freedom.”

Yes, it is unforgivable. We should hide our faces in shame. In particular a great number such as me, for in the 1930s I had one of the finest teachers who laid down the law strictly and who made sure that we fully understood the knowledge he was imparting. Maneckji Nusserwanji Dhalla (1875-1956) was a Zoroastrian priest and scholar who received a master’s degree from Columbia University in1906 after studying Iranian languages and Sanskrit with minors in philology and philosophy. In 1929, following the publication of several books, he received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Columbia. In 1935 he was given the title Shamsul Ulema. At that time he was teaching us at the BVS Parsi High School, and to this day I keep close at hand one of his lectures entitled ‘Let none nurse intolerance’:

“Intolerance and bigotry and dogmatism are the bitterest enemies of religion upon earth. They make religion a tyrant, a persecutor, a veritable daeva, the demoniac perversion of angelic religion.

“The frog croaks that his well is the whole world and the bigot boasts that his is the only inspired and perfect religion. The truth and the whole truth is exclusively garnered in his religion, he avers. His religion is the crown and culmination of all religions, his religion is ordained to be the universal religion of mankind and salvation is possible only through his religion, he adds.

“All bigotry is blind and stupid and savage. Sectarian bigotry is as bad as inter-religious bigotry. Bigotry stifles reason and the bigot, in his frenzy, is out to force all to believe what he believes.

“All religions come from one and the only God, who makes himself known by many a name. From the same source, like the tributaries of a river, they flow. All religions make man equally good upon earth and with equal safety do they conduct his soul to heaven. One alone is truth and all religions teach this truth, for religion itself is truth.

“All open their hearts to the same God. All seek refuge in the same God. All seek fellowship with the same God. All commend their souls into the hands of the same God.

“Man has no right to demand that his neighbour shall address God after his pattern and shall pray in his own way and worship according to his liking and sacrifice unto God in the manner he does.

“No thinking man’s own idea of God and religion, at all times and in all conditions of life, is ever the same. For everybody’s views on religion, then, it is not possible ever to be alike. Monotonous would our world become, if all thought equally and in the same way without ever differing in religious beliefs and practices from one another. Nature shines in her luxuriant glory because of the wide variety of her form and colour and beauty. So do there bloom and blossom in the garden of the spirit pervading mankind, foliage and flowers of all shades and grades of devotion and religious emotions.

“Teach me, my God, to see that I have no right to impose my own way of thinking upon others. Teach me to acknowledge and honour the right of all to pray and worship and sacrifice in their own way. Keep me free from sectarian spirit, and give me strength to root out from my heart bigotry and fanatic zeal. Teach me
to discern true religion from religiosity. Fill my mind and heart with the spirit of toleration.”

This is what the early generations were taught. We all listened well then. But later, along the way, we failed to see or check the creeping darkness.

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