A question of mindsets

Future of the world will depend on which worldview prevails: Hellenic-cum-Confucian or the religious fundamentalist?


Amin Jan Naim April 07, 2016
The writer is a former ambassador and a BSc (Econ) from the London School of Economics & Political Science

My lifetime of reflection has primarily been based on a particular epistemology — mainly Hellenic in nature. Years of reading, study, thinking, observation and feelings have led to a certain world view. The fact that this world view is in consonance with that prevailing in the European and Confucian countries, is no ground for apology.

There is a stark divide between this world view and the dogmatic one. They are diametrically opposed. There seems to be insurmountable barriers between the Hellenic Weltanschauung and the fanatic ones that have emerged so inexorably in recent times. This divide portends conflict and violence. It is doubtful if this gulf can be bridged at all or not.

The contemporary phenomena of entities such as Daesh, the various Lashkars, Sipahs and the Jaishes in Pakistan, the RSS in India as well as the obscurantist American neo-cons, the Klu Klux Klan and the Bible-belt literalists all have in common, brutality, violence and cruelty. They reject rationality and are unwilling to heed reason. When an individual or a group is unwilling or unable to listen to reason and settles matters by killings, what can be done?

The future of the world will depend on which of these divergent world views prevails. Will it be the Hellenic-cum-Confucian school of throught or will it be its negations mentioned above, that come out on top? The struggle will be long, hard and painful. Yet, because of its inherent intellectual strength, the Hellenic-cum-Confucian one can and should prevail. But it must be reinforced and buttressed with requisite military force. One can maintain there is hope, if we are to accept the precept of the essential goodness of humanity in overall terms. Though such goodness may be a particular characteristic of mankind, it needs to be protected from the onslaughts of terrorism that we are witnessing nowadays.

The extremist entities mentioned above are opposed to such essential goodness. They rely on the manipulation of vulnerable persons and on their brain-washing. These entities are increasingly using modern technology, the internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook to further their nefarious designs. Remember the gruesome video posted on the internet of the Taliban playing football with the severed heads of our valiant soldiers?

Because of the lethality of modern weapons, lone individuals and groups can wreak huge, disproportionate havoc. A few lithe terrorists can cause great damage while large traditional armies are somewhat at a loss on how to tackle them. Can such terrorists and suicide bombers be countered? If so, how? These are some of the predominant issues the world will face in the years to come.

Some attempts are now being made to understand the formation of the radical mindsets of the Daesh and the Taliban. The process seems to involve not only the manipulation of the vulnerable, but also the use of psychological tools and modern technology. Such entities get people to negate their own selves in the pursuit of a larger cause. This process is promoted when social structures are disintegrating. Frustrations and feelings of inadequacy are manipulated ruthlessly to persuade the vulnerable that their path to redemption lies in altering the world drastically. They are induced to self-sacrifice by a persistent denigration of the present order and by the glorification of an imagined medieval past. A golden future is painted as within grasp of the recruit and as being more palpable than the present. He is dissociated from everyday life, his home, his family, and from the society at large. His individuality is remorselessly crushed and his being is pumped with hatred towards the foe. Such self–renunciation is channeled into merciless cruelty and suicide. An implacable belief is instilled in him of a distorted and radicalised faith and in a seemingly infallible leader. By giving a potent weapon in his grasp an illusion of irresistible power is inculcated in the victim.

The proper responses that need to be adopted to counter such manipulations of victims remain unclear. According to David Brooks, “First try to heal the social disintegration that is the seedbed of these movements. Second, offer positive inspiring causes to replace the suicidal ones. Third, mass movements are conquered when their charisma is destroyed, when they are defeated militarily and humiliated.” All this is easier said than done. The requisite modus operandi and practicalities have to be worked out. Planning such counter measures present serious difficulties.

The terrorists must be dealt with an iron hand. Their breeding ground — the madrassas — must be regulated, controlled and modernised. If this has to be done with force, so be it. A firm, unwavering policy must be crafted and then implemented with determination.

The article by Fawad Ali Shah in these columns of January 27, 2016 on the link between the textbooks in our government schools and militancy, describes the poisoning of young minds. The vitriol contained in Pakistan Studies textbooks, even in government schools, promotes rabid extremism. I had personally perused some of these shocking and biased textbooks, when, as Ambassador, I was looking after the Pakistan Embassy School in Sana’a, Yemen. The remedial task is manageable and necessary. It should be given priority under the National Action Plan.

We must retrieve Jinnah’s Pakistan from the clutches of the extremists. Music, literature, art, science and philosophy must flourish. For the entirety of humanity, Beethoven was the real inspiration and Plato, the true teacher. Let our youth imbibe such greatness.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th,  2016.

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COMMENTS (5)

Amin Jan Naim | 5 years ago | Reply @Toba Alu: Yes, this amplification and the additions are very relevant and correct. I wish these themes are expanded upon because they are crucial for the country. I am grateful to you for your observations
Toba Alu | 5 years ago | Reply The groups you mention do not only have brutality, violence and cruelty in common. They all have rigid (often wrong) views of the world they live in. They all believe that their view is the only correct one. They all feel that their world view/lifestyle, their group, is under attack by "the other". They are full of fear and are searching for certainties. Many fall back on old village certainties. Most urban centers in the developing world are still populated with mostly 'recent villagers'. These villagers came with a 'conservative' village mindset full of thruths and certainties. All the groups you mention have this in common, the brutality, violence and cruelty is just a reaction, a defense mechanism against uncertainties they don't like and don't understand. Highly educated people usually read more and study more the moment they realise that new scientific discoveries 'undermine' their view/opinion their 'certainties'. The well-educated are more likely to accept Heraclitus' opinion πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) "everything flows". Admittedly, this concept poses intellectual challenges. We have to accept that the less educated commoner usually lives by a roadmap carved for them (their group) in stone, full of truths, with answers to all their human questions. They don't have to think, they are not willing to think, and not able to think, all the answers have been formulated (for them). In a rapid changing world these 'roadmaps' are constantly undermined by new scientific discoveries. Rather than thinking/questioning they retreat behind their 'old certainties' and mobilise their 'group' to fight the other. Many commoners are not able to keep pace with our rapidly changing (smaller) world. They are getting more and more frustrated, realising that the standard story of the rich does not hold water for them. Be ready for more political, socio-economic, and religious upheavals.
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