By Swami Agnivesh


New Delhi - 7 March, 2001

Common to Islam as well as Arya Samaj is the rational insight that God does not have any material image or manifestation. Though, Arya Samaj has been careful to ensure that its rejection of idol-worship does not amount to idolatry, as has been the case with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The mere presence of the Bamyan Buddhas under any stretch does not amount to idol-worship. On the other hand, the mindless obedience of the dictates of a militia leader whose religious authority emerges from the barrel of his guns does amount to idolatry. We do not expect Taliban to see such subtleties because of the religious fundamentalism that it follows. To militarized mullahs, the destruction of any object could seem like a religious act, especially if it is achieved with the help of tanks and rockets.

Irrespective of what his followers have made of him, Lord Buddha himself was an iconoclast. Every enlightened person becomes one. Given the fact that Buddha did not even believe in the existence of God, it can only be a matter of speculation as to what religious significance his statues can have. It is wholly understandable, nonetheless, that the Taliban sees in the Buddha the absolute contradiction of what it symbolizes. Seen in the light of Buddha, Taliban and all other manifestations of religious fundamentalism look grotesquely pre-historic.

It is a matter of some irony that even as the mute statues of Buddha were being bombarded, several Haj pilgrims were dying in a stampede in Mecca. What spiritual merit does the Q'aba have? How has it become a religious ecstasy to kiss the stone there? Is this not idolatrous? Why should Muslims all over the world turn to Mecca to pray? Does the transcendental God stay put in Mecca?

The Taliban should not fool itself by the fact that demented religious fundamentalism that it sponsors has anything to do with a rational approach to religion. Hardly any institutionalized religion will pass this test. All religions need to undertake a shared pilgrimage towards greater self-criticism and spiritual reformation.

The Taliban syndrome has given a new lease of life to the fundamentalist outfits in this country. The blasting of the Buddhas is a windfall for VHP and Bajrang Dal. But do they really expect that their public display of indignation will be mistaken as respect for the Buddha? Few have forgotten that a similar insult was administered to Lord Buddha by code-naming the Pokhran II as "Buddha smiles". Rather than protest, they danced in the streets and distributed sweets!

The Arya Samaj wants to ensure that fundamentalist outfits do not hijack this volatile situation to their advantage. Swami Dayanand Saraswati remains an unparalleled effervescence of rational thought in the religious consciousness of India. He was an unsparing critic of all forms of obscurantism and fundamentalism, irrespective of the religions that patronized them. He did this in order to regain the lost balance between religion and social spirituality. This spiritual renaissance is basic to the revitalization of India which has hitherto been crippled by casteism and religious obscurantism.

It is not enough to endorse or reinforce the current anti-Taliban chorus. The need of the hour is to declare a collective war -a genuine dharm yudh- against the bias, unreason and negativity endemic in institutionalized religions. Let us no longer allow people to be
divided into 'us' and 'them' in the name of religion. Instead let us fight the forces of exploitation and injustice that thrive on by perpetuating poverty, inequality, hate, and irrationality. The Taliban syndrome at home needs to be fought and frustrated.