Geographical boundaries versus Human values

Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood,

The current happenings in Myanmar and Assam illustrate a disturbing social phenomenon of our times. The significance of geographical boundaries is being over-glorified – often trampling upon the sacred, fundamental and universal human rights. The intrinsic value of guaranteeing and protecting the life, dignity and property of group A can be thrown to the wind simply because the members of this group do not ‘belong to’ the geographical boundaries of group B. Thus the modern man is degenerating from the status of being the ‘noblest creature’ – sliding back to the dark era of primitive, brutish ape-man – and, ironically, seems to be proud of this retrograde drift.

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An intellectual analysis reveals that the modern misconception of nationalism hovers around the material opportunism to gain political power and its retention. With this latent agenda, the national geographical contours are sometimes manipulatively raised by the political class even to the level of divinity. Let’s pause here and look back to the series of geo-political changes occurring on this planet for thousands of years. Does that mean that the Divinity keeps on changing its form? How on earth can it ever be plausible to the human mind that a person who is born in a certain geographical area must be rated as better or worse – or deserves more or less attention of the administrative authorities – than another person only because the latter is born in a different geographical area? This trend of ‘geographical boundaryism’ has gone further astray to the extent that in China those living in rural areas need a special permit authorizing them to work in cities; this is known as the Hukou system.

What happens when two countries join each other or a country gets divided? For millennia, and for different reasons, the global surface has been undergoing kaleidoscopic changes vis-a-vis the international and interprovincial boundaries. These do play a vital role in organizing the affairs of the individual and social life. However, subjecting the destiny of individuals to the interests of a particular geographical area – as it obtains at a given point of time – can give birth to bacteria eating into the sanctity of basic human values. Nevertheless, the opposite is happening in today’s world. A German couple, Balaz and Susan Lohle were deprived of a happy union with their children who were born in India, because of the bilateral legal complexities and mutual disagreement regarding the modalities. There are innumerable instances when avoidable wars erupted due to the misunderstanding of the ground level factual position; the expansionist greed of the rulers prompted them to attack and seize foreign territories; human population was decimated by a vainglorious ruler; inhuman treatment was meted out to a section of their own people by the government leaders.

Likewise, politics in the modern world too has been reduced to capturing the grip over governance and directing all energy to consolidate and prolong the same. The political actors find it convenient to use even religion as a tool in order to achieve this goal. Their interest lies in promoting a scenario where people do not owe their allegiance to a religion because it bonds them to the Creator and promotes high ethical values but, instead, they get attracted to a religion because such connection will get them some short-term material benefits. Recently one could clearly see vote-bank driven, political double standards fitting into this analysis. A group of people were discriminated against and wronged and were compelled to leave a country because of state prejudice against their religion but we did not provide shelter to them even for a short duration. On the other hand, immediately thereafter, when another group of people of another religion came from another country having faced a somewhat similar situation, and it was expected that they might seek shelter, we moved many steps forward and welcomed them offering asylum. Similarly, if group X forcefully renders group Y homeless, the political expediency favours X; but when there is a public demonstration against such inhuman behavior then still the political class blames the demonstrators. Professor Waseem Barelvi rightly says:

Is daur-e munsifi mein zuroori nahin Waseem
Jis shakhs ki khataa ho usee ko sazaa miley

In the judico-administrative system of our times it is not necessary, O Waseem, that the punishment is handed down to the person who commits the crime.

Some political opportunists do not mind playing with even the delicate silky fabric of social relationships, only in order to feather their own nests. They have two separate sets of morality: public morality and private morality. Such instances of parochial misdemeanor throw multiple generations of humanity into the abyss of social evil. Haughtily marching toward their selfish goals these elements don’t even bother to realize that their own progeny too would have to suffer the long term cascading effects of their current evil designs flaming today the fire of intra-societal hatred.

In the wake of casualties arising out of such a geo-political tug of war immediate financial grant is sometimes sanctioned by the government to extend short term help to the affected group. However, this is no solution of the problem as such. This fly-by-night approach can be illustrated by the doctor merely applying a petty ointment to treat a chronic ulcer in the human body whenever it looks sore from outside. This cannot be a long-lasting treatment. The patient, rather, requires to be taken under antibiotic cover, surgically operated upon and kept under observation till full recovery. There is another jeopardy. In order to placate and woo the voters of the grossly under-represented community, the ruling clique doles out personal favors to some of it’s proteges – who at least look by name to be belonging to the depressed community. But, in return, these individuals do not utter a single word on the community’s behalf lest their political masters get offended – even though their silence badly damages the community’s basic interests. Perhaps they are under the misconception that they are never going to be held accountable before their Creator. While Islam has encouraged nationalism, it has discouraged worshipping the nation. Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi says in his book Nuqooshe Iqbal that such disproportionate overarching of nationalism causes hostile inter-territorial rivalry, mutual exploitation rules supreme, unprincipled and dishonest behavior permeates the body politik and, ultimately, lawlessness becomes the law. That’s the reason why, fourteen centuries ago, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had declared in his last sermon that thence onward there would be no differenciation between man and man except on the basis of the level of individual commitment to righteousness.

Nationalism is good but, if over-glorified, it may side-step the values of humanism. We must keep the human values at a pedestal higher than nationalism, otherwise the latter might become a sword with double edge for the people of one’s own nation. If the Amercan congressmen, under the effect of nationalism, disapprove that the Indians living in India are allowed to handle jobs for the U.S. companies, then we surely do not like this. In such a situation the American nationalism is harmful for us. Therefore, to some extent, we – all the world citizens of the twenty first century – will have to define the outer limits of the concept of nationalism. The United Nations must include this in its agenda. Discussions must be held on this topic worldwide. When Adam and Eve descended from the heaven, the whole globe was their nation. Today the world population makes more than six billion. Still the humankind needs to treat the first couple as the pivot in order to continuously purify and consolidate the human values. The same single message was ingrained on the divine Preserved Tablet, later from which the Prophets received the message from time to time. Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal conveys the same message:

Momin ke jahaan ki had nahin hai
Momin ka muqaam har kahin hai

There are no boundaries for the world of a true believer. The whole universe is his field of proactivity.

(The author is President, Zakat Foundation of India)