May 23, 2013

Violence and Kshātra: War, Religion & Philosophy

The recent roadside butchery of a serviceman in Londonistan is a high-visibility, low-impact advertisement for jihad. It happens all the time in India. It can be thought-provoking, amusing and also chilling to observe the reactions within the Muslim community in the wake of every such incident.

It is familiar to hear the taqiyyah on TV of some Muslim representatives telling non-Muslims that 'jihad' is primarily an act of self-improvement or a struggle against social injustice, rather than an act of war or violence. But there are several other Muslim sheikhs, intellectuals and bloggers now emerging who are more frank and philosophically succinct in that jihad was indeed primarily defined as an act of battle. However, they still do draw a line between legitimate jihad and anarchist terrorism. E.g.:
Blog - The Humble "I"Terrorism is to Jihad as Adultery is to Marriage
In their everyday lives and drawing room discussions, the initial reaction is embarrassment, irritation or self-pity at the real or imagined stares and uncomfortable silences of colleagues at the workplace or fellow travelers on the metro or bus. There is some condemnation of the perps not being good Muslims. But when that starts happening, there is always the wise voice that reminds the gathering that according to the widespread interpretation of Islam even major sins do not constitute a breach of Iman (faith in the eyes of Allah), so one should not judge the perps on that count. Besides, the political cause brandished by the perps cannot be brushed away, one is reminded - the US has invaded Muslim countries.

In discussions that follow, many of those that initially condemn the perps then jump to the defence of the Saudis, who are not to be unfairly considered the prime petrodollar proliferators of these takfiri ideologies, but rather as those who support the schooling of the most hardened fighters in legitimate jihads such as the ongoing one in Syria, while dealing equally swiftly and mercilessly with anarchic criminals and terrorists. The discussion then veers around to how such criminals who bring Islam a bad name are affected by psychiatric illnesses.

My feeling is that while clinical or sub-clinical psychological problems may play a big part in such behaviors, the fact that such criminals seem to most easily find support for their paranoid schizophrenic tendencies in particular types of ideology is not being considered. For doctrinal adherents, the same ideology that famously breeds the most admirably hardened jihadis in West Asia, Af-Pak and Africa is not to be blamed if these lunatics misuse it. I've heard the analogy used: a good car cannot be blamed in an accident involving a crazy driver.

In their worldview, there are obvious injustices in the world, such as the West invading Muslim countries to exploit their resources. Therefore, a "complete system" covering all aspects of life must involve the use of violence and the priming of the mind to clinically execute acts of violence against an oppressor or anyone who displeases Allah. That the violent component of the philosophy is in the mould of a religion seems to be the hardiest, most viable, sleekest and most powerful solution to them, an unbeatable gift, and they frankly or secretly admire it and are proud of it. In fact, Napoleon and Hitler and many a military leader have recorded their secret admiration of Islam and its rugged utility, and wished they had such a system at their disposal in their nations. It does not strike its adherents as having any inherent problems whatsoever. The spartan warrior's religion, the prophet-king or his viceregent, these are romanticized. 

In this vein, a certain predominant cultural meme comes to the surface in Islamic society. It is a meme that is in every society including our own - but Islamic society is the only one to invest it with the crown of spiritual potential in a particular way... One therefore often sees Muslim youth, even in the West, become part of the subculture of War and Death that is anyway always there in the West. A sample:
Chris Hedges' "War is a force that gives us meaning"
 "Sarajevo in the summer of 1995 came close to Dante’s inner circle of hell. The city, surrounded by Serb gunners on the heights above, was subjected to hundreds of shells a day, all crashing into an area twice the size of Central Park. Ninety-millimeter tank rounds and blasts fired from huge 155-millimeter howitzers set up a deadly rhythm of detonations. 
Multiple Katyusha rockets – whooshing overhead – burst in rapid succession; they could take down a four- or five-story apartment building in seconds, killing or wounding everyone inside. There was no running water or electricity and little to eat; most people were subsisting on a bowl of soup a day. It was possible to enter the besieged city only by driving down a dirt track on Mount Igman, one stretch directly in the line of Serb fire. The vehicles that had failed to make it lay twisted and upended in the ravine below, at times with the charred remains of their human cargo inside.
Families lived huddled in basements, and mothers, who had to make a mad dash to the common water taps set up by the United Nations, faced an excruciating choice – whether to run through the streets with their children or leave them in a building that might be rubble when they returned.
The hurling bits of iron fragmentation from exploding shells left bodies mangled, dismembered, decapitated. The other reporters and I slipped and slid in the blood and entrails thrown out by the shell blasts, heard the groans of anguish, and were, for our pains, in the sights of Serb snipers, often just a few hundred yards away. The latest victims lay with gaping wounds untended in the corridors of the hospitals that lacked antibiotics and painkillers. 
When the cease-fires broke down, there would be four to five dead a day, and a dozen wounded. It was a roulette wheel of death, a wheel of fire that knew no distinctions of rank or nationality.  
By that summer, after nearly four years of fighting, forty-five foreign reporters had been killed, scores wounded. I lived – sheltered in a side room in the Holiday Inn, its front smashed and battered by shellfire – in a world bent on self-destruction,a world where lives were snuffed out at random.
I learned early on that war forms its own culture. The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug, one I ingested for many years. It is peddled by mythmakers, historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state – all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death.  
Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths.  
War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it is over. 
The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when
we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves.  
And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are susceptible to war’s appeal.
That subculture of Death, whether it expresses itself as a fascination with arms, or a Goth fad, is present in all human societies, more in some than in others. But rarely does it find itself as the crowning jewel of religious faith. This is even stronger than other ideologies such as Communism that have also traditionally glorified bloody guerrilla tactics and terror.

In my humble opinion, if the philosophical consideration of violence were truly defensive in spirit, or as a creative destruction and a means to an end, it would never be cast in the mould of religion itself - such as the jihadi meme. Rather, the comprehensive philosophical justification of violence would probably be cast in the mould of a fight against precisely such a cult of glorified and religiously directed violence or domination. To quote the famous mantra:
॥ इन्द्रं वर्धन्तो अप्तुरः कृण्वन्तो विश्वं आर्यं अपघ्नन्तो अराव्णः ॥ 
"Augmented by Indra's (Soma's) strength, civilize the world by destroying the non-liberal and jealous ones." ~ Rigveda 9.63.5
It appears that the fundamentalism of each viewpoint on violence could be rooted in different spheres. Violence (and sex) are forces that contain information that most humans cannot consciously process. To overlay that with the significance of religious commandment is dicey, so the fundamentals are key. Recently a friend pointed out (BRF):
Modern brain research shows there are three layers of the brain: reptilian, middle and neocortex and reflect evolution. The reptilian brain is the one that provides the auto responses and the neocortex all the pleasant high thinking that allows human society to develop and prosper. A religious "philosophy" that is plugged into the wellsprings of violence is fashioned for the reptilian brain and reinforces the auto responses of hostility.
The world renowned neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran, who also shares an interest in different classes of religious experience, wrote a book "The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's quest for what makes us human" (PDF here), which is also a good read in this regard.

There are strong indications of this link between jihadism and brain function. Sometimes this 'reptilian' limbic brain is channeled for purposes of law and order-and-consolidation, and at other times it is channeled for purposes of aggression-without-reservation. It manifests itself in the bedroom as on the battlefield. Consider this revelation in the Qur'an about how a man should respond to his wife if they get into a disagreement -
Qur'an 4:34 (link) - "Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great."
The part in italics is what happens between dysfunctional couples from a particular strata of society anyway (more widespread in certain cultures). If they get into a disagreement, the husband first "admonishes" her. If she remains stubborn, they probably withdraw sexually and become silently hostile for a while. If it gets nasty, then it comes down to physical abuse ('fighting and fucking' syndrome). Numerous such cases are found in any society. This, then, is Allah's revelation in the Qur'an. One could say that it is a civilizing guideline - not to beat her right away, but to first admonish, then stop sleeping with her, and use physical intimidation as a last resort, and to forgive and reconcile if she surrenders, rather than seek divorce prematurely. But still this civilizing force doesn't rise above the basic idea of male possession and authority over the female, or the right to use physical intimidation. This equation is only one cultural mode of male-female relationships, a caveman ethic which has its legitimate place and attraction in the larger scheme of things. It is an integral part of the relationship, but one doesn't find the other, liberal modes of this relationship discussed adequately in the Qur'an. It is true that Islamic law and subsidiary literature is full of exhortations to kindness towards ones spouse, the joys of marriage, etc., but they all have as the background this basic tone. Therefore, it is possible to say that the Qur'an dwells mostly on one brain mode of thought, relationship and action. That mode has its own validity, but when it is not balanced out by comprehensive discussion on other modes, then it is very problematic.

To extend the brain analogy: When something is cast in the mould of the reptilian brain, the person identifies with it possessively. It becomes the end, not the means. It produces irrational not rational thought. It is no longer "philosophical" even if specious arguments are used to show how there is obvious justification for its form and action. Even when those motivator justifications are no longer there in the environment, they will be manufactured. Thus, there is an undercurrent of either provocation or reaction.

In the above Vedic mantra on dharma-yuddha to make the universe Arya (noble), it is the mobilized mass of "non-liberal" elves-turned-orcs that is sought to be fought and civilized. Here also there is reaction involved, no doubt, but it is not provocative in the same way as a cult of violence. It is a war meme, no doubt, but the difference is subtle. It is the difference between the Sikh Khalsa and Aurangzeb's forces. A post from another blog on this mantra:
Blog: Kal Chiron: "कृण्वन्तो विश्वं आर्यं " - Civilize the world - In what context?
The Vedic idea of war is truly philosophical, rather than religious and pseudo-philosophical. Because the Veda has a prominent line of thought against the Dasyu-Dāsa combine that generates illiberal tendencies in society as a means of control and expansion of political power. This has been blogged here earlier [The Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic vs. "class struggle" theory]. A friend pointed out (BRF):
Even if one observes these traits to be common in Islamic society, one should still give credit to Islam that it has mastered the reptilian brain behavior and made a science out of it, and learned how to both bolster it as well as how to channelize it. The elites in Islamic societies often use it to their political ends. 
This mastery however shows a neo-cortical behavior. 
So even if an individual or most individuals in Islamic societies may display reptilian brain behavior, at the forest level, there are cold calculations.
It must be recognized that the religious commandment-philosophy of jihad is a very refined tool, indeed. It is not merely a childish, "irrational" eccentricity. Communist anarchists have a secret admiration for the ability of Islamist elites to mobilize "Koran rage" demonstrations across the planet. As the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have said, "If one can ride the Ego like a well-trained and blinkered horse, one will reach the goal very swiftly."

And that is true. But it is the other ingredients of training and of being human that make the difference between whether one is riding a horse or a tiger. Separating the means and the end is a big part of sanity. If Service is the end, then Conflict is only a means. In terms of varna, the kshatriya must always be trained to be strictly subordinate to the brāhmana limb of consciousness or society; never the other way around.

As per Swami Dayananda Saraswati's commentary (Arya Samaj), the Vedas say that a Complete Man (Arya) is one who has the following abilities:
1. Domesticate animals (and the animal within) to perform constructive works for nation-building,
2. Cook a delicious meal from a balanced assortment of natural ingredients for a mainly lacto-vegetarian diet,
3. Use weapons expertly in battle - not in rage, but channeled with the clinical intention of killing or repulsing the enemy who hates him,
4. Know the science and art of music, especially for Vedic chants.

Personally, I'm almost there - I've been domesticated by women, I love honoring a well-cooked meal, I get an adrenaline rush just by watching martial arts on TV, and I prefer music to white noise any day.


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