“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Mehmood may not have thought about it, but his message applies to Kashmiri Muslims reaching out to Pandits as well

(Mr. Mehmood-ur-Rashid, mid-30’s, lives and works in Srinagar. His commentary is published by the Rising Kashmir.)

Thinking of Change

“There is a way to be good again”. This is the thematic refrain and the underlying urge of Khalid Hosseini’s Afghanistan: war ravaged, intrigue infested and inflicted with cancerous version of religiosity. In the most depressing times Hosseini runs after the kite of hope. In Kashmir we keep vacillating between euphoria and depression. The question that occasionally visits mind is that can we also keep ourselves afloat thinking that the shores of hope are somewhere in the vicinity of vortex.

Across many oceans a Black man has started speaking about the audacity of hope. He wants to make a new beginning with the Muslim world. He even wants to unclench the fists. Is this the time to think of Change, Hope and a renewed understanding of who we are and what we stand for? Is there a chance to earn some peace by realigning the struggles in the Muslim countries and revising the content of these struggles?
Usually we have been hearing of peace processes initiated by states. Suspecting them is easy and rational as well. What if Muslim world gives thought to the idea of reaching out to the world of Political Power without compromising the essence of their struggles, find ways to bring peace to their lands! Can we think of an initiative of building trust with the Other, without doing injustice to the truth and essential core of our collective struggles. Can we act impartially, drop bias, jump over the barricade of anger and stereotyping, and make peace with the people around the globe. At least people are not our enemies, neither are we theirs.

Building trust, without sacrificing impartiality, may not an easy task, but, at the same time, never an impossible assignment. Besides the knowledge of the niceties of human nature and its pitfalls any attempt to bring about reconciliation between two conflicting parties must be supported by the love for peace and willingness to do justice. If any of the three ingredients is missing, building trusts may either be an exercise that will harm the principle of justice, thus straightaway making impartiality a victim, or will lead to a false and transitory impression that the two conflicting parties have developed the bond of trust. So in order to build trust between the two parties that are engaged in confrontation, of whatever level, it is necessary to have the knowledge of the interests, positions and stakes of both the parties. Without knowing who stands for what one cannot even think of making an attempt to build peace between the two parties. It is true for all conflicts, ranging from petty personal to mighty international disputes. If the parties to the conflict are better understood in terms of their relation towards the conflict it always becomes easier to build trust between the two. It was only when the World Bank understood the stakes of India and Pakistan in the water resources of the region that they brokered a deal between the two. It’s amazing that in spite of the two countries being at loggerheads with each other on a host of other issues, they could finalise an agreement on the sharing of water decades before and till now it survives. How could the World Bank broker peace between the two arch rivals over an issue that is immensely critical. The answer to this uneasy question is simple; the trust was build between the two parties when the stakes of both were understood and genuinely addressed.

Another important factor that has to be present in the efforts to build trust between two parties is to allow both of them express themselves. It has not just the value of catharsis, which has a salutary effect at psychological level, but also lets it known that what do the parties stand for. It is highly important that the efforts to build trust focus on taking the attention of the parties away from conflict and turn it in the direction of yearning for peace. Once this is done there is no need of being partial, as both the parties will automatically exhibit interest in coming closer to each other. The next step to strengthen the process of trust is to address the vulnerabilities and stakes of the parties. If that is left unattended it will leave the chances of acrimony again ruling the relation between the two parties. The telling example of this, at international level is the Mid East conflict. Although the parties came closer to negotiations many a time but since the stakes of a particular party were undermined things trundled back into the same abyss. Latest is the example of Gaza. The land has again been irrigated with blood, and it does not sleep.

A time tested tactic to build trust between the contending parties, without letting impartiality get hit, is to allow the parties to engage with some routine activity without actually making them conscious of the conflict that stands unresolved between them. In the current times Lebanon provides a wonderful example of this phenomenon. In its fight against the intrigues and military interventions of Israel, Hizbullah discovered that the Christian population of Lebanon were supportive of Israeli activities. Once Hizbullah won over the situation it was feared that they will now unleash their anger on the Christian population that collaborated with Israel. This could have resulted in great damage to life and limb. But they resorted to this unique method of letting time heal the wounds. The populations, Muslim and Christian were allowed to engage themselves in the banalities of life. In the process they again developed mundane and profitable relations with each other. This made them forget what had happened earlier. Both the populations regained the level of trust, and justice could be maintained by the fact peace was not imposed on the two but was rather allowed to grow from within them. This example provides us a golden lesson; whenever we are to build trust between the parties, the levels of active conflict should be brought down. With the passage of time a situation emerges where parties become unwilling to dissociate from the routine and engage with conflict. Second important lesson from this example is that forgiveness is the ultimate remedy to calm the frowned, furious and fighting heads and make them friends.

If the talk of Change has started, the all important question is that can Muslim world, participate in it? Willingness to understand the outer world and engage with it is the key to ensure a place in the emerging world. Every time talking about grievances, holding grudges, deepening animosity and taking a wrong roué to history to feed all this negatives, is never going to help Muslim world. We can secure a share in the Changed World only if we participate in Change. First step towards Change will be know our times, and for that purpose we will have to educate ourselves. Right now we are revelling in our ignorance, and Change has always refused to make friends with ignorance. And probably the prime reason for our ignorance is our understanding of religion!