Despite the fact that it was used extremely effectively by the British to rule 25% of the globe, there is little popular recognition or awareness of the details of their superbly efficient divide-and-rule strategy. We mention a few illustrative incidents; compiling a complete picture would take several books. Afraid that Muslims in their colonies might unite against them, in response to a call by the Ottoman Khalifa, the British attempted to create their own puppet Khalifa, by uniting the Arabs in a revolt against the Ottomans.
At the end of the First World War, bowing to the inevitability of self-rule in the Middle East, the British took steps to divide the area into countries which would remain perpetually locked in conflict, so that the British would be able to retain control of the oil in the region. When these hopes were dashed by popular leaders like Mossadegh of Iran, who nationalised the oil, regime changes were orchestrated by the MI6 and the CIA, to place leaders in power who would protect Western interests.
Closer to home, after the so-called mutiny of 1857 in India, the British ensured that native armies were separated into different religions and castes, to prevent any emergence of unity. The seeds of hatred between different groups living in India were deliberately planted and nurtured, as the best way of guaranteeing the permanence of British rule. When they felt threatened by the growing unity in Bengal, they partitioned it in 1905 to create separate Muslim majority and Hindu majority portions, with the hope of keeping them at loggerheads with each other. Historians have argued that the discriminatory, rigid and divisive Hindu caste system of today is more a product of the codifications and manipulations of British bureaucracy than the Indian religious traditions. It is well documented that the British spread tales of Wahabi desecration of holy places to create hatred towards them in India, as a part of a successful propaganda campaign against Syed Ahmed Shaheed. The sectarian divisions and rivalries among Muslims have always been helpful to the global conquerors, who have used them skillfully to their advantage on numerous occasions, including current times.
The seeds of hatred planted by the divide-and-rule strategies have found fertile ground, and have taken deep roots, creating enormous obstacles to the quest for peace, unity, harmony and tolerance. Nonethless, many examples from recent history show that these challenges are not insuperable. Great visionary leaders, like Chairman Mao, Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Nelson Mandela, Mahathir Mohamad, and many others have promoted, with varying degrees of success, peace, harmony and unity as an essential pre-requisite to progress. During the Long March, Mao created awareness and unity of purpose among the masses of China, building the foundations of their current prosperity. Nelson Mandela’s vision to forgive past enemies, and forge a “rainbow” nation was a key to the spectacular rise of South Africa. Mahathir Mohamad forged consensus among divided and fighting communities in order to create an economic miracle in Malaysia.
Studying the strategies of the successful leaders for clues, we find that long-standing rifts based on deep mutually inflicted wounds can be healed by persuading all parties to look towards the future, rather than the past. In the cases cited earlier, and many others not mentioned, the conditions under which national unity was forged were even bleaker than ours. The methods of social engineering required to re-orient the public mindset are now well known, and we have many experts within Pakistan. Mainly, these depend on large-scale projection on the media of a shared common vision for a bright future, based on tolerance, harmony and peace, by authors, writers, schools and universities, and families — the training grounds of the new generation. In creating a campaign for unity, peace and harmony, we must be aware that such a move will be opposed by many powerful interests who are served by our divisions and disunity. Collectively, we pay trillions of dollars of tribute to our Dividers-and-Rulers, in the form of arms purchases and loans for defence against enemies within and without, because we cannot unite to pursue common goals of prosperity. Freedom has never been a gift; it has always been achieved by a struggle.
Among the enemies we must fight, a powerful one is a well-crafted illusion of helplessness; the idea that we as individuals can achieve little in face of the enormously powerful drivers of social change working in the opposite direction. Again history teaches us that it has always been a small number of people working together for a higher purpose who have created the greatest revolutions. Instead of cursing the darkness, let us become the lighters of candles.
The Quran teaches us to return enmity with kindness and our enemies will become our friends. In light of current practices and thinking of Muslims, this seems like an impossible dream. However, similarly daunting challenges have been faced and overcome, because the deep bonds of humanity which tie us to each other are far stronger than the superficial divisions by race, language, sect and ideologies. The politics of hate is the common enemy of humanity, utilised by cheap demagogues as an easy method of rabble rousing and collecting votes. The great battle is to fight against this with the visionary politics of love, generosity, forgiveness, magnanimity, and compassion. The path has already been blazed for us by the Sufis, and saints of all persuasions. Victory can be ours but only if we can dare to reach out and grasp it.
Whether or not we succeed in creating a revolution, the consolation prize is perhaps even greater than the victory. Those who arm themselves for the battle by filling their hearts with love for all human beings, will find that they have succeeded already — their hearts will be full of love, which is by itself a great success, bringing peace and joy, regardless of the turbulence and violence of the world around us.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2017.