I have never been to India, although I know several people who were born there. These individuals–thoroughly American, believing in its idea more sincerely than most of us native born–on the most part they exude a sense of honor. Of course, being Americans, this may very well be a facade. Natives of India who come to these shores are often quite intelligent (although certainly not all of them.) When I was teaching, on the most part, those with such a background were quiet, studious children. Upon getting to know a few of these students (rarely their parents, whose demands upon their children were only exceeded by their expectations of me), I came to understand a slight piece of the cultural divide that immigrants to my nation bring with them, and how such a fusion can both benefit and harm the world.
In the following study, “Elsewhere,” I will focus on the five continents outside of North America (except for Antarctica, because Recording Editorial History has never had a click from there), ending with a discussion of North and Central America, excluding the United States. Of course in the massive and long-standing world, civilization has expanded from every culture. It is my intention, although hardly an expectation, to discuss several of the different trends that both influence and plague the larger world and, like any American, see how this effects himself. We here in America, as with most other nations in the world, can only see ourselves as the center of everything. Anything that happens is because of us, or intended for us. This is not specifically an American quality. There is a pervasive selfishness to humanity, and there always has been. If you read history from any era, all the way back into ancient times, you will find the same self-serving tone–either the celebration of greatness, or the most profound damnation. And so, affecting the same aloof tone, I wish to explore the rest of the world, and report back to America what I have found. I suppose I must apologize in advance for all of the things I am going to get wrong.
More than half of the world’s population resides in Asia. Featuring the only two nations with more than a billion people living inside their borders, the continent, which has been a significant world power since long before recorded history began, has always been one of the great powerhouses of the world.
Cultures in Asia have been nothing if not adaptable to the modern trends of society, while managing to be slightly more successful than Western nations in maintaining at least a portion of their national identities. And yet, despite the drastic modernization and industrialization that have allowed many of the Asian nations to prosper, this has far from eliminated the evils of society, and has even enhanced them to such an extent that for a great many people life within those borders seems more like an endless imprisonment than a cause for nationalistic pride.
Since Asia is so vast, and has so many diverse issues and populations, I am merely going to focus on two nations: India and Pakistan. I could go on for thousands of pages discussing simply modern day Asia, before going back through the millennia of eventful years that have given and taken so much from the world. We could focus only on middle eastern issues, as so many politicians and media outlets obsess over, and the apocalyptic tone of many of those debates. We could talk about China–soon to be the most powerful nation in the world, if it is not already. China itself deserves consideration far beyond the social travelogue of this article.
There is the great divide between India and Pakistan, and the there has been more recent news of an escalation of tensions (again.) We could talk about religious warfare in Asia, and economic warfare and simple warfare for its own sake. The complexities of both the triumphs and tragedies of Asian political and social development are heart-stopping and urgent and fascinating, and that is not even considering the fact that Russia, too, is a part of Asia as well as Europe.
Here, listen to a few names and see if you can restrain your shudder when considering not necessarily the realities of the following nations, but your expectations (and as for that handful of people who might be reading this in one of these places, I suspect you are mostly foreign soldiers. Regardless, you know what I’m talking about far better than I ever will.) This is a laundry list: Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Kazakhstan, Israel, Palestine, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam . . . Many of these nations have tyrants oppressing the people, some have exploded with religious fanaticism in response. In many there is massive corruption, rigged elections, the slaughter of innocents and endless war.
Of course there are wonderful places in Asia too (consumed, perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, with their own corruption and their own violent histories), places like Japan, Hong Kong, Nepal, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. The many more I have yet to name of course have their strengths and weaknesses too, and all of them are doused in a history it would take years to understand (let’s name Turkey.) But this piece, already getting to be long, is going to focus on two very specific places, both very large, both very populous, and both among the most important countries in the world.
India. India is the largest Democracy in the world and, as with any Democracy, is prone to both partisan outrage and violent corruption. The history of this nation since splitting on religious grounds from Pakistan in 1947 is rife with political scandals, assassinations, intolerance, and radicalism that sought (and continues to seek) changes in the social order. According to Human Rights Watch, “Under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government, pro-BJP vigilantes have committed violence against religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government. The failure of authorities to investigate attacks, while promoting Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism, has further encouraged violence.”
Fundamentalist Hindus are running wild, according to some. Of course those fanatics consider themselves heroic, cleansing the earth not so much of heresy, but from those unwilling to acknowledge the dominance of their beliefs.
Hinduism is the last great polytheism. I have always thought that polytheism is a far more democratic way of looking at creation, and the order of the world. Sure, there is some semblance of a hierarchy within these faiths, but followers are allowed to pray to whomever they choose with no serious problems beyond the usual sectarian violence that any true believers sometimes commit on one another. But think about it: a god for whatever it is you find important, and not just One giant finger waggling no no no. And if your interests are not represented within the pantheon, well, we can invent someone new to represent all of you who feel they have never had a voice. Religion is always politics. Polytheism seems to understand this more than the monarchy of monotheistic faith.
India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers, and they have been in an up-and-down holy war since Great Britain left in 1947. After Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by yet another fanatic (we can count on revolutionaries devoting themselves to uncertain ideologies once a new way of living is imposed upon a nation, often misunderstood as freedom), the hatred between the hard line Hindus in India, and Muslims in Pakistan, created a rift right there in the middle of the world. Of course, several hundred miles away, the same thing was happening with the foundation of Israel, another holy war with the Jews and Christians on one side evicting Muslims in the name of the holocaust of World War Two. The Muslims were having a bad time of it. Their anger spread throughout the world.
We could go into some of the horrors of the 1950s with Iran, or even to the holy wars between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan more than twenty years later, but that would only be pointing to certain extremes that we can look upon with hindsight as the foundations of the modern geopolitical world. I want to further explore India and Pakistan, because this feud has always seemed more urgent, regardless of the hate babble of loudmouths proclaiming the singular importance of whatever it is they believe.
These are some of the problems plaguing India (as well as most nations of the world):
- Untouchability (caste prejudice, similar to rich hating the poor, or the educated loathing the undereducated)
- Child Marriage (as young as nine years old, with engagements often agreed upon even prior to the birth of the bride-to-be)
- Child Labor (many sweatshops, not to mention prostitution)
- Gender Inequality
- Domestic Violence against Women
- Sexual Violence against Women (gang rapists sometimes are not prosecuted)
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Religious Violence
We can replicate this list in many nations (including my own), but the baffling thing is that India is also one of the world’s great economies, a nation that produces some of the greatest minds, creates some of the most brilliant and popular entertainment, features some of the greatest athletes, and invents new technologies that spread everywhere in the world. And yet some of these ancient and cruel practices still exist with partial social acceptance. I mean, there are members of the national government who have been involved in child trafficking, selling orphans as sex slaves to whichever wealthy monster wants to own them.
The rise of fundamentalist violence, however, is only going with the trends of modern civilization, people moving farther and farther to equal and opposite extremes, and then choosing war over diplomacy. Within India the radical Hindus seem to defy much of the foundation of their religion. Hindus have rarely been considered extremist, and those who were used to be rapidly snuffed out by a society more interested in peace than proselytizing. But this has gone away. As more and more people have lost faith in any sort of god, the true believers have gotten angrier and more frustrated, demanding deeper submission to the absolutism of their faith. And so there has developed a new breed of Hindus, or really just an explosion of what were once considered fanatics. These are the terrorists blowing up Mosques, the barbarians who shoot up Muslim schools. Here are the glaze-eyed members of some newfangled cult of Vishnu who believe apocalyptic prophecies over the rights of man.
It does not help India that Pakistan broods angrily on the west. The seemingly endless series of wars between the two nations has resulted in enormous death and earth-shattering political divisions, some so severe that Pakistan has been divided into smaller nations with their own radical agendas. Bangladesh was formed after east and west Pakistan went to war with one another during a larger conflict known as the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. This brutal conflict ultimately served to create even deeper hostilities between the two (three) nations. The war, which lasted only thirteen days, has an estimated death toll as high as three million people, and it is believed that as many as four hundred thousand women in Bangladesh were raped by militants from Pakistan. Of course India is blamed for torturing hundreds of thousands of prisoners, both military and civilian, and the outcome of this conflict has led to the nuclear proliferation both nations are dealing with today. It has become an arms race. Things have been looking doubtful for almost fifty years.
The Indo-Pakistani war began as a nervous preemptive strike by Pakistan on eleven Indian air stations. This occurred due to suspicions that India was behind the revolution on the east (which they almost certainly were involved with in some way). Seeing their nation being divided again was simply too much for the dense population of Pakistan. There were radicals on the losing side who vowed eternal revenge against India, building a far more extreme coalition that has led to the Madrasas in the western mountains teaching children to kill all non-believers, training them with such a focus on hatred that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many terrorists exist on the fringes today across Asia.
But I do not wish to trash Pakistan either, despite the far bleaker history of political corruption that has consumed this very religious nation. There have been military coups, execution camps, numerous attempted overthrows, and civil wars in everything but name. The fact that India is so much more prosperous is just another slap in the face to those struggling to make sense out of their lives, turning deeper and deeper into their faith (as the desperate are prone to do) and hoping that somehow someone somewhere will see the light.
And yet despite all of this darkness shimmering in the background, pock-marking the political landscape, India and Pakistan are both filled with absolutely wonderful people. There is no doubting the excellence of their academic dedication, and the family life appears to yet remain the most important thing. There is a level decency to these people, even within the homes of fanatics, that raise children with a deep moral code and a pure definition of right and wrong (regardless of how right or wrong those visions might turn out to be.)
This has hardly been the ode to India that I had intended at the outset, but these are the versions of belief that people see regarding these nations elsewhere in the world. There is certainly great glory, and tremendous accomplishments to admire. But there is the same darkness as everywhere else, the same instinctual fright that causes people to flinch in the dark over sounds and shadows. It is the same as everywhere else. And while the specifics of doubt may focus on different things, the suffering of harsh emotions eat away at the soul in the exact same way.
Tomorrow we will visit Africa, notably South Africa and Nigeria, with a crisscross of the continent along the way. Get ready for a study of genocide, slavery, racial bias and oppression, as well as the triumphs of modernity and the sainthood of so many people seeking to care for the desperate.
©2019 Lance Polin