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Islam and Sectarianism ( 16 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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When Every Individual Is a Minority


By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

January 17, 2014

THIS nation was still reeling under the burden of conscience after the concept of majority was taken for a ride in a disputed election. On the heels of it came depraved attacks on a minority population when miscreants descended on Hindu villages and ransacked their homes. They threatened men and women who had voted for their party of choice, their atrocities culminating in the rape of two women and death of one elderly man. One doesn't have to be a wizard to connect the dots. A minority cannot have peace when the majority is restless.

American philosopher Ayn Rand explained why that's true. She said that the smallest minority on earth is the individual and those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. If we look at the reality in our country, it's divided into many minorities. Women are a minority, children are a minority and so are the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Christians. The tribal people are minorities as well. Compared to the ruling party, the opposition is a minority in the parliament.

So the minority isn't restricted to the sphere of religion alone. Neither is it restricted to the number of people. By definition a minority is the smaller in number of two groups forming a whole. But there're minorities within the majority in this country. The rich are a minority in relation to the poor. We have more illiterate people than educated. There are more farmers than industrial workers. There are more people than politicians.

This gives us the contrast, which also gives the contradiction. Not all minorities are persecuted by the majorities. In some cases it happens the other way around. A few thousand wealthy people exploit millions of destitutes. A handful of factory owners control thousands of workers. A few hundred politicians hold the fate of teeming millions in their hands.

Only abiding example of the majority dominating the minority is mob rule. That's when the number overpowers norms as a disorderly crowd finds its strength in force. More organised groups find force in their strength. The rich have strength of money, which give them the force to exercise control over the larger society. The politicians find strength in their offices, the holy men in the devotion of followers, and the law-enforcement bodies in their regimentation and weapons.

What about the ordinary people broken down to the individual level? Where does the individual find his strength? Where does he in his individual capacity find the courage to face the world? What is his weapon that protects him from exploitation and aggression? Who guards his life and property?

The answer, known to all, is good governance and rule of law. This is where democracy plays the pivotal role. People are supposed to find strength in the power to choose their own government. When people are denied that fundamental right, deprivations trickle down. A farmer's land is taken by the more powerful while he runs in futility from court to court. Inflation eats up the savings of the middle class. Market manipulators swindle small investors in the stock market. Lecherous men molest wives and daughters of others while justice remains as elusive as shifting sands.

It boils down to a simple question. If the individual is persecuted in a society, where does one draw the line between the majority and the minority? American science fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein has defined that sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. One may not agree with the other half of Heinlein's observation that all other sins are invented nonsense.

It doesn't matter how we divide the whole. Whether it's done along religious, political, gender, economic or any other line, the business of hurting each other is our main problem. The garments workers who were roasted alive at Tazreen Fashion or crushed to death under the rubble of Rana Plaza were victims of this hurting business. So were the victims of petrol bombs who ended up in hospitals as percentage riddles embodied by their degree of burns. The persecution of religious minority only comes as an aggravated extension of that barbaric insanity.

In fact, it's not a matter of minority and majority. It's rather the matter of predatory nature that constrains the strong to hunt the weak. Tigers terrify dogs, dogs daunt cats, and cats chase rats. This chain of animal cruelty also runs its course in the human space.

Human heart is a seething pit of this deadly compulsion, and it has its occasional eruptions.  Those eruptions choose their targets, prejudices of the time igniting the fuse to trigger the explosion. Religious intolerance doesn't rise from piety but from the vexing vapours of godless intentions. The majority is the number of minority in this country where every individual lives in the tyranny of others.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.