Home > serious posts > Fundamentalism’s two faces: the naive and the power peddlers

Fundamentalism’s two faces: the naive and the power peddlers

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Or is it? Posted by Gautam Chikermane on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm at his Hindustan Times blog:

I’ve written enough about religious fundamentalism — go through this blog and you’ll see enough on both. What I’m more concerned about is the spilling out of religion on our streets, holding average people to ransom. What bothers me is how a handful of interested religious groups can wreak havoc on average people, burning or banning a book here, driving an author out of a country there, or declaring fatwas of death on thinkers, writers, painters.

I exaggerate. In fact, because the smallest of such religious extremism is reported, analysed and commented upon so quickly and with so much reason goes to illustrate the counterbalancing force against fundamentalism. The handful of fundamentalists seeking to create a constituency of followers in the interpretation of religion in “their” way may be set back by these reports for a day or two or a month. Then they return. Not unlike the trolls online.

It could be simply a case of an acute lack of empathy. I refuse to believe that these small groups of fundamentalists spawning across India and the world are not intelligent. Or that ‘tolerance’ — a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own — is a word that’s alien to them. I’ve met some fundamentalists and can classify them on two types — the naïve and the power peddlers.

The naïve understand tolerance, but only with their minds, not with their hearts. In the Oneness they preach, exclusion is an appendage they lack the capacity to see. So, they might want the whole world to believe the way they do for that alone is the Truth. But anyone who cannot see things that way is immediately condemned. The worst offenders are those sitting in the closed and protective confines of existing organisations, trying to break them down into their narrow jails. At some level, I even have compassion for them — how can you be angry at a madman?

It is the power peddlers, the highly-intelligent vested interests that we need to be alive to, guard against. These are people who in essence are not interested in religion or faiths or belief systems. Their motive is to use an existing constituency for their petty power games. Here again, existing organisations, following a particular philosophy, ideology or religion are the most vulnerable.

Using bits and pieces of the same intellectual or spiritual infrastructure, this group seeks to first break down and then control the mother organisation. Too lazy to start afresh, not intellectually equipped to be able to garner new ideas, with no interest in or affinity to spiritual heights that can carry all the rest, this group of reductionists can do only one thing: destroy.

It is around these two demons that we need to rethink democratic ideas like free speech and lofty ideals like spirituality. While dealing with them, however, we need to be able to distinguish those led by blind faith from those driven by a power lust. The former are relatively harmless, for in essence they seek to push a point of view they ‘believe’ in. It is the latter, who very often uses the naïve, that we need to stop.

P.S. Gautam Chikermane can hardly be called a Western supermacist (sic) or chauvinist.

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  1. A concerned friend of Auroville
    May 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Dear Tine, Marc D., and friends,

    I am bowled over by your naivety. You are happy that “more and more Aurovilians are talking openly … about the dark climate which is poured over us”. Are you really so blind as not to see who is pouring this dark cloud over you? If you wanted to understand how first Muslim extremists and then the US came to see themselves embroiled in a global war, you wouldn’t turn to Bin Laden to “understand the complexity of the discussion of the parties involved.” If you wanted “to clarify the facts” you would turn to an expert on religious violence like Mark Juergensmeyer. If you really want “to clarify the prevailing misinterpretations, to return to common sense and some kind of understanding and harmony, and prevent the insane and inflated rumors”, then the last thing you should do is to turn to the very source of the prevailing misinterpretations and insane and inflated rumors.

    “The tendency to scape-goat an individual, without any willingness to listen to what he or she has to say, reminds us of the darkest periods of human history.” Indeed it does. But if ever an individual was scape-goated, it was Peter Heehs by Sraddhalu with the fawning support of his naive minions. Has Sraddhalu ever exhibited any willingness to listen to what Peter had to say? O sure, he has, but only to seize on his words, distort them beyond recognition, make them mean their very opposite or whatever suits his scheme. To understand people like him you should read The People of the Lie by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. After describing a case history, Peck comments on a particular statement — not by the patient, but by the patient’s parents who, for all their success and social respectability, were the sick ones and were destroying their son. He notes with evident astonishment: “Not one lie, not even two lies, but three lies, all twisted around each other in a single short sentence.” You will find plenty of such sentences in Sraddhalu’s rambling diatribes. How sad that your Prince Charming didn’t get a chance to give you “a deeper insight of what’s really going on and of building a bridge”!

    This is what everyone wishing to gain such insight ought to have learned by now: Sraddhalu and his cohort want to codify the teaching of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, to issue Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots, in brief, to turn it into a religion. Putting themselves forward as the priests of this religion, they aim to command the respect and power that goes with this rank. They want to control the thoughts and feelings of those who turn to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for guidance in order to gain power, position, and influence. They are, in short, the power peddlers that we need to guard against, that we need to stop.

    Their methods are as unscrupulous as their motives are sinister. Sraddhalu or his agents sent complaints against Heehs to the Regional Registration Office Pondicherry, to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office in Chennai, and to the Foreigners Department of the Home Ministry in Delhi; they also filed a case against him in the Madras High Court, demanding his immediate deportation. By bringing a case against the Ashram, they have demonstrated their willingness to use the Indian courts to get what they want, regardless of the long-term consequences for the wider community. These are exactly the sort of tactics the Sri Aurobindo Society used against some Aurovillians during the 1970s. Thankfully, most Aurovillians have learned their lesson, as the actions taken by the Working Committee show. But the Working Committee is elected, memories get shorter, and the past recedes. So, foreign Aurovillians, take heed: none of you are safe unless you buy into Sraddhalu’s rabidly anti-Western ideology.

    For more goose bumps see his insulting letter of Jan 23, 2012, to Dr. Karan Singh (Chairman of the AVF, Member of the Indian Parliament, Senior-most Congressman) in which he accuses AV of “promoting anti-national interest and activities”, of undermining “the efforts of the Central and State Governments to protect national security interests”, etc., and implies that the AVF may find itself fighting court cases because of SAIIER’s action against him: “Otherwise the views of SAIIER Board will be misconstrued … of … involving your implicit sanction and approval, and will be filed in the Courts tomorrow.” He even hints that communal trouble could arise (or be aroused by him): “…for one day or the other, the tide will turn and the docile Indians will rise up en masse, and then it will be too late…” With this letter Sraddhalu is building a case against AV in the very same way that he has built up his case against the Ashram.

    I have no illusions that those who still support SR (actively or through inaction) will be swayed by any further arguments or evidence, no matter how convincing. They have heard all the arguments, ignored all the evidence for years. At this point, they have clearly chosen to hold their position, no matter how irrational. It is more painful for them to admit the truth than to defend a lie. But the others — will they wait until it is too late to stop Sraddhalu?

    A concerned friend of AV

  2. Ex Naive Auro- bindonian
    May 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Unfortunately there is quite a lack of knowledge about this whole affair in many quarters of Auroville. But whoever believes that the enormous (inter)national hullabaloo created by Sraddhalu, Alok Pandey & co. is only over a few passages in a book printed in the USA and unavailable in India is naive. The blasphemy charges must be a smoke screen: this much ruckus can only be about changing the management the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in their favor: just see their court case against the SAAT. They could have simply followed the advice of these Oriya devotees and simply withdraw from the Ashram.
    Why didn’t they? It can’t be the lure of controlling the many crores of Ashram real estate in and around Pondy, right? It must be the prestige to be in charge of such a famous institution then.

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