Today is a good day to think about the causes of war. Especially because a lot of us are feeling skittish about multiple recent attacks on people seen as ‘symbol’s of the West, done by members of a certain religion (actually a religion with multiple strands but all lumped together into one pot.) As I read The Song of Kahunsha, by Anosh Irani, I am again reminded how nationalistic bigotry is begun.
People may claim they are committing their acts of violence to prove their own god is better than their enemy’s, but when their god forbids violence, questions of their piousness arise.
In this novel, an imaginative and kind boy, Chamdi, lives in lonely despair in an orphanage. Surrounded by images of Hindu gods and Christian saints, attended to by a Muslim woman, he wishes she were his mother, but although she does her best, she can’t mother him when the demands on her are so high. Her eyes are red from weeping, as the orphanage no longer has a sponsor and will be sold by the descendants of the original sponsor. She and the children will be turned out. He runs away, believing himself to be a bad boy breaking her rules, especially when he must turn to begging and thievery to survive on the Mumbai streets.
Although the matron had quietly told Chamdi that gods like Ganesha were probably made up, he chooses to believe they are real, although he’s puzzled that the life size Jesus statue doesn’t ever answer him, and the Hindu gods don’t seem to be protecting the innocent as well as he hoped.
Living with other beggar children, he becomes ‘owned’ by Anand Bhai, a filthy thug who treats his parents badly. Chamdi is appalled by the thug’s cruelty toward his beggars and spies, and his disregard for his parents, whom Chamdi wishes were his own. Anand justifies his nastiness by telling Chamdi that when he began his lifestyle, he too was shocked by what he saw, but once he damaged his first victim, his heart hardened, so he was free after that.
Although Anand’s mother makers her living by creating tiny statues of Hindu gods to be sold on the street, she has not been able to influence Anand to be a better human. She intercedes on behalf of the children, but fearfully, and without success.
Although Anand is clearly without morals and performs nary a poojah, he works for the worst underside of a supposedly religious but clearly nationalistic front. To the chants of “Jai Maharashtra” he murders a young Muslim family, on orders from above. He arranges the job cheerfully and tells his co-conspirators they must retaliate against the killing of a Hindu family by Muslims a few days earlier. He looks forward to the rash of further killings these revenge killings will cause. Thoughts of religion, compassion, morals never enter his picture. “Jai” is usually followed by something to be revered, such as a god, or a guru, not a national state. That these people place their national state above their religion is telling of the philosophy that allows people to kill in the name of their god.
Can you imagine shouting “Hail Alberta” or “Honour Missouri” and going on to kill neighbors who don’t seem Albertan or Missourian enough? Just because they don’t belong to the majority’s religion? We would wonder what kind of religion would promote such behavior…
So how does all this fit into Remembrance Day? If we can remember that people who commit violent acts to spread religion really aren’t religious at all, we are less likely to blame the wrong people. Blaming the religion for nationalistic behaviors is unfair, and leads only to further bloodshed. Lest we forget.