More on Violence in South Asia and the Great Jihad

By Anjum Altaf

Why is there so much more political and ideological violence in South Asian countries compared to, say, France? This may seem like a simplistic or irrelevant question but the typical answers that it elicits could help uncover the complexities inherent in the phenomenon.

The discussion in this post is focused on the violence that is inflicted within a country by one set of individuals on another for reasons to do with differences in political ideas or ideological beliefs. We are sidestepping the type of violence that was covered in an earlier post, violence that has less to do with differences in ideas and beliefs and more with the exploitation, for personal gain or satisfaction, of an imbalance of power – violence against women, children, and workers being typical examples.

It follows immediately from this perspective that the violence under consideration is an outcome of the failure of finding peaceful ways of resolving political and ideological differences. And this brings up immediately a consideration of the institutional mechanisms that can yield non-violent resolutions, i.e., to a consideration of what might be the critical differences between the body politics of France and South Asian countries.

We know full well that under monarchies the king was the sole source of authority and power was exercised at his bidding, arbitrarily and without accountability. Violent suppression of dissent and opposition was the only effective instrument of conflict resolution. Examples are so numerous that they do not need reiteration though one may refer to the conflict between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh as a particularly poignant illustration from South Asia.

Equally clearly, we know that the world has moved on and that, at least as far as appearances are concerned, there has been a transition to an age characterized by notions of social contract, citizenship and civil rights. We are not supposed any more to resolve political conflicts the way they were under monarchies.

Here we come face to face with the critical disconnect between appearance and reality, with what distinguishes the South Asian body politics from that of France. What we are talking about when we refer to the notions of social contract, citizenship and rights is the institutional form of democracy but as we have argued many times on this site, we need to be more discerning in assessing the realities of various types of democracies. The question we have asked repeatedly is whether the spirit of monarchy can masquerade under the form of democracy?

In a recent article, Andre Beteille has articulated this argument very well. First, he reiterates that “disaffection, dissent and opposition are features of social and political life in all parts of the world and at all times. But they find different outlets and expressions in different societies.” Then he gets to the essence of a functioning democracy: “what is distinctive of a democratic regime is that there is an acknowledged place in it for an opposition as well as a government. Hence an alternative route to the understanding of a democracy may be through an enquiry about the opposition: its form of organization, its legitimacy and its effectiveness.” (In order to get a sense of what is at stake, think of the attitude to oppositions posed by the Baloch in Pakistan, the Maoists in India and Nepal, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Islamists in Bangladesh.)

And then Professor Beteille gets to the heart of the argument:

Democracy, thus, requires a set of institutions through which its ideals and aspirations can be expressed and made to bear fruit. The institutions of democracy are many and diverse and they do not remain fixed for ever but evolve over time. The course of their evolution cannot be the same for all nations if only because each nation has its own distinctive social order. Democracy changes that social order to some extent but it is also changed by it. The institutions of democracy cannot be the same for all nations because the social institutions with which they become intertwined vary enormously from one another.

The political institutions of democracy are shaped also by the historical conditions of their origin and by the history of the nation’s interaction with other nations. In both India and the United States (US) – unlike in England or France – democracy grew in response to the challenge of colonial rule, but the responses were not the same in the two cases. America was a new nation characterized by social conditions that were very different from the social conditions prevalent since time immemorial in India.

The inference is obvious and vital: when we talk of democracy we talk of the superstructure of governance but what really gives each democracy its distinctive characteristics are the underlying social order and the conditions in which democracy was introduced into the body politic. This is where we go beyond the typical answers to the question posed at the beginning of this article. Yes, France is more developed, a more mature democracy, but what does that really imply and how does it explain its internal pacification and control of violence?

We have mentioned in earlier posts that in South Asia, where there have been no social levelings through revolutions, we are still dealing with very hierarchical social orders. We are also dealing with the post-colonial legacy of democracies that had no organic evolution in the region. Some of the comments we have reproduced in earlier posts drive home this point:

Most people in India had no idea of what exactly they had been given. Like the British empire it supplanted, India’s constitutional democracy was established in a fit of absent-mindedness. (Sunil Khilnani)

The significance of India’s democratic experiment was itself disguised by the historical process through which it came about… It was not the object of ideological passion, it was not born of a deep sense of conviction widely shared, but it was simply the contingent outcome of the conflicts amongst India’s different elites, or an unintended by-product of the British having produced too many lawyers adept in the idioms of modern politics.  (Pratap Bhanu Mehta)

On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up. (B.R. Ambedkar)

It is clear from this that the clues to political and ideological violence, the attitude towards dissent, and the nature of conflict resolution in South Asian countries are to be found in the specificities of post-colonial forms of governance and even more in the social orders on which those forms were superimposed.

The most lucid exposition of this perspective I have come across is by Teresa Caldeira, an anthropologist, in her book on crime, segregation, and politics in Sao Paulo. The power of her analysis stems from its movement from the specific to the abstract:

First, I seek to understand the character of Brazilian democratic citizenship and the role violence plays in it. Second, I want to make this understanding talk back to theories of citizenship and rights… I build this analysis as a dialogue with theories of rights and violence, a dialogue whose expected result is not only to illuminate Sao Paulo’s experience but also to problematize notions of citizenship and democracy.

Here, Caldeira is pointing to the same critical understanding that was highlighted by Andre Beteille:

Because these notions are formulated on the basis of a specific Western European or American experience, to apply them directly to a country like Brazil results only in seeing it as a failed or incomplete modernity. Rather than consider only one model of citizenship, democracy, or modernity, I suggest that different societies have diverse ways of engaging the elements generally available in a common repertoire of modernity to create their specific nations, citizenries, and democracies.

Caldeira introduces here the very useful notion of ‘disjunctive democracy’ arguing that scholars of “the history of the countries that invented the liberal-democratic model (France, England, and the United States)… have tended to generalize the history so that it becomes the history of the development of rights and discipline in general and the model of what citizenship and democracy should look like.”

One of the effects of this generalization is to link certain elements as if they always occur together and in a certain sequence. Countries such as Brazil, but also others with different histories (usually colonial histories) and that today have disjunctive democracies force us to dissociate the elements of that history and to question their sequence. They force us to see the possibility of political citizenship without the control of violence, of a rule of law coexisting with police abuses, and of electoral democracies without civil rights or a legitimate justice system… Looking at these histories, we realize that what we think of as the norm – the European history of the control of violence and development of citizenship rights – is only one version of modernity, and probably not even the most common one. When we look at other histories we realize that multiple modernities are produced as different nations and peoples engage with various elements of the repertoire of modernity (monopoly of the use of force, citizenship, liberalism and so on).

Caldeira refers to the classic essay by Marshall on the development of citizenship in England:

His starting point is the recognition that citizenship rights have never been equally distributed but have expanded considerably over time. After distinguishing the civil, political and social dimensions of citizenship, Marshall argues that they evolved in succession, and that each took around one century to consolidate.

She then explains that “the peculiarity of the Brazilian engagement comes from the fact that social rights (and secondarily political rights) are historically far more legitimated than individual and civil rights, and that violence and interventions in the body are broadly tolerated.”

Marshall’s thesis on the sequential development of citizenship rights (explicated here by Mitchell Cohen with reference to the present) is itself embedded in the specificities of the emergence of capitalism in Europe with its imperatives to protect privacy (of property) and to promote individualism (to make labor a freely tradable commodity). The unintended outcome of these imperatives was the concession of civil rights extending the sanctity of property to the body of the worker, his or her primary asset. This concession of the equality of all bodies, in turn, led to a demand for political rights, an equal say in the election of political representatives. And the need to protect the capitalist system from the pressures for redistribution from below generated by civil and political rights led to the progressive yielding of socioeconomic rights. [For an excellent summary of the transformations in Europe in the 17th Century, read the first part of this essay by Ian Johnson.]

We come back to South Asia after this very long digression hopefully convinced that both the nature of the social order that acts on democracy and is itself acted on by the latter and the conditions in which democracy is superimposed on this order have much to do to explain what happens under that system of governance.

So what is it in the South Asian social order that generates violence and tolerates its infliction? Having skipped all the steps that preceded the emergence of capitalism, individualism and liberalism in Europe, the South Asian social order is still a hangover of a monarchical system with its typical mechanisms of conflict resolution.

To explain the prevalence of violence and its acceptance in the Brazilian body politic, Caldeira employs another evocative expression for what she terms the ‘unbounded body’ which is “unprotected by individual rights and, indeed, results historically from their absence… the naturalness with which Brazilians view infliction of pain as a corrective is consistent with other perceptions of the body. Interventions and manipulations of other people’s bodies, or one’s own body, are seen as relatively natural in many areas of social life.”

We can illustrate this notion of the unbounded body, the tolerance for, and indeed the advocacy of violence, with many examples from South Asia. Many social scientists have remarked on the soft authoritarian predilections of the rising middle class impatient with the compromises of democracy. How many times has one heard from ‘liberals’ that the South Asian masses are not ready for democracy and understand only the ‘rule of the stick’; that nationalists and dissenters should be dealt with ‘without mercy’ (recall Musharraf’s threat to the Baloch); that all corrupt politicians should be ‘lined up against the wall and shot’ or ‘hung upside down from the trees’; and that criminals need to be ‘taught an exemplary lesson.’ The contradictions of these desires, to violate the citizenship rights of those one disagrees with or does not like, do not resonate at all as incongruous with the professions of liberalism. The road to a better world is uncritically accepted as a violent one by liberals and conservatives alike.

In South Asia, as in Brazil, “the body is conceived of as the locus of punishment, justice, and example… It is conceived by most as a proper site for authority to be asserted through the infliction of pain. On the bodies of the dominated… those in authority mark their power, seeking through the infliction of pain, to purify the souls of their victims, correct their characters, improve their behavior, and produce compliance.”

And these conceptions and their consequences are “accepted as natural in everyday life” by citizens because of the broad social tolerance for punishment as a corrective and acceptance of the unbounded body as the appropriate locus of that punishment.

It is the end of this particular intellectual journey – “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It is up to us to recognize this imperative of our feudal-monarchical social order, to confront our natural tendency to conform to its dictates, and to resolve that the greatest need of the times is to accord sanctity to the individual rights of all citizens irrespective of our political and ideological differences. The body needs to be bound and understood to be off-limits to our passions. In the absence of supporting social processes, this has to be a struggle of the intellect. This, indeed, is our great jihad.


Altaf, Anjum (2013). Why is South Asia So Violent? The South Asian Idea Weblog. Accessed at

Ambedkar, BR (1949). Speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly. Accessed at

Beteille, Andre (2013). The Varieties of Democracy. Economic and Political Weekly, 48:8, pp. 33-40.

Caldeira, Teresa PR ( 2000). City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in Sao Paulo, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Cohen, Mitchell (2010). T.H. Marshall’s “Citizenship and Social Class.” Dissent Magazine, Fall. Accessed at

Johnson, Ian (1999). On Hobbes’ Leviathan. Accessed at

Khilnani, Sunil (1997). The Idea of India. Hamish Hamilton Ltd., London.

Mehta, Pratap Bhanu (2003). The Burden of Democracy. Penguin Books, India.

Marshall, TH [1965 (1949)]. “Citizenship and Social Class.” In Class, Citizenship, and Social Development. Doubleday: New York. Accessed at

Anjum Altaf is Dean of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.


  • M.Ali
    Posted at 08:06h, 11 March Reply

    Theocracy is part of the problem. When one intermingles DIN with theocracy, one gets a confused mambo jambo, and unfortunately Pakistan is facing the same thing. It is ironic that theocratic religious engineers were the same people who werent on-board the Pakistani ship in 1947 in the first place, have quickly hijacked all aspects of life.

    Moreover, Iranian vs Saudi racist dominance has trickled down in our streets and cities. Adding insult to injury, the so-called-western-backed-liberals are using this chaos to propagate the false belief that Islam/two-nation theory has inbuilt failures and Westernization is the only way to go ahead.

    Solution: get back to our roots on which this nation was built. Otherwise, we are stuck in infinite loop.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:23h, 14 March

      M.Ali: I am not sure what were the roots on which the country was built? If the religious engineeers have hijacked it then it must have been piloted by the so-called liberals. Quite naturally the liberals believed Westernization was the only way to go ahead but the true belief was Islam which got intermingled with theocracy leading to an infinite loop and a confused mambo jambo. Who are you looking to as the saviors?

  • Sakuntala
    Posted at 10:03h, 11 March Reply

    I enjoyed reading the analysis. I feel many of the points (especially towards the latter half of the list) apply equally to Pakistan’s neighbor India too where violence is no longer limited to the peripheral states (Central India is also involved – Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh) and many of us are raising the same questions about the need for public involvement, mass mobilization, etc. to stem the rot (whether it is political or sectarian violence, or degeneration of administration, or lack of accountability in those occupying positions of power).

    Perhaps one needs to also examine strategies that have worked outside one’s geographical borders, and learn lessons about what works and what doesn’t. And one question I am raising in this context is — how do we get the younger generation involved? In India, the young are too busy running the rat race, only retired persons have the time (but not the energy!) for public involvement but the recent demos by youngsters at Delhi, after the rape incident, show that the young also do get roused to anger.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:28h, 14 March

      Sakuntala: I don’t think lessons from other places are really applicable because the social orders are so different. And where ever people are rising up against the state, the young are also involved.

  • Anadil Saeed
    Posted at 03:34h, 12 March Reply

    ‘Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted’, writes Nietzsche, echoing the alleged ‘Supreme’ dictum of the Nizarite Order of Assassins. Elsewhere he insists, ‘There are no Moral Facts’. That is at a fundamental level most, if not provably all, morality rests on unprovable axioms (or assumptions). That is one may sanctify necrophilia, zoophilia, paedophilia, as easily and as persuasively on purely rational and logical grounds as classical man-woman love-making. One may be reminded of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems here….

    Mr. Anjum, concludes by urging to endow ‘sanctity’ to individual rights of citizens, irrespective of personal political and ideological beliefs. But this is precisely the problem; it can’t be done. Students of the Vienna School of Psychoanalysis, know all too well of the nature of this ‘internal demon’, what Nietzsche called, the sight of ‘incurable mendacity’. The point is, Violence will not go away, and Utopia will never come. Violence will change its forms, and may be given a different name, but it is here to stay, and doesn’t have anything specific to do with mixing ‘State’ and ‘Religion’, though mixing ‘State’ and ‘Religion’ has its violent repercussions. A friend who recently returned from Germany, spoke of how violent Urban Germany is, with respect to those people, who have not managed to live up to ideals of purely material concerns, and how actively such individuals are made into pariahs, or publicly declared as invalids. In doing so he drew parallels from Weberian Social Analysis, and in particular, ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ (a work I have unfortunately not read), to show how the old churches have given way to new churches. Villages are no longer burned, and physical purgation and extermination doesn’t take place, but on the other hand, there is extreme suffering at the level of psychological and spiritual life.

    The problem is not that the decent, and the good citizen, will not readily accept disassociating passions and actions, it is that neurotic constitution, which, frankly, ‘wants’ violence (and herein also lies all our geniuses). Please consider Chris Hedges’, ‘War Is the Force That Gives Us Meaning’. I would urge individuals to read the book, or if they can’t find and read the book, then at least watch Chris Hedges Youtube Videos.

    As far as ‘Religion’ goes, Emile Durkheim, one of the great Fathers of Social Science, postulated his study of ‘Religion’ on the basis of explicitly two parameters; ritual and belief. This can be verified by looking at his work ‘Elementary Forms of Religious Life’. By restricting himself to these two physically observable parameters, he also uniquely defines the bounds of trajectories, his thought may possibly take. William James, one of the great Fathers of Modern Psychology, approached the ‘Religious Problem’ differently. He completely circumvented the question of ritual and belief, or any institutional aspect, as can be verified from his work ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’, and argued that the core institutional aspect and correlatively ritualistic and belief aspect of a typical believer is a consequence of personal experiences of certain individuals in the past. And in analyzing the experiences of the original religious leaders such as Muhammad, Jesus, St. John, George Fox and others (who simultaneously showed psychopathic and neurotic temperaments), as transmitted to us by historical documents, he tried to see if there is a common pattern to them and whether or not they could represent a root experience that could help us give a hold over reality. Such a scientific aptitude was also advocated by Muhammad Iqbal (our National Poet), who was intensely perturbed by the dogmatic conservatism of South Asia as well as ego-dissolving materialism of Europe, a man who is oft-quoted and whose clean-shaven portrait hangs in our bureaucratic and educational offices, but of whose core philosophy, the nation is collectively quite oblivious and ignorant.

    In my modest opinion, blind faith, which we must apologetically admit is the core functioning principle for ‘Religion’ in South Asia, doesn’t lead one too far, though it certainly makes life very meaningful. Religious ‘Truths’ must be demonstrable, otherwise there will always by Demagogues and Priests, and Churches, though their forms may forever change. Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist, frankly states in his ‘Denial of Death’, that the problem of man is his disassociation with the fundamental questions of the meaning of his own being, independent of the cultural machinery he is born into, that is he is not self-conscious, and more than that, he is afraid of being self-conscious. He would rather go to War, listen to a priest, ‘do what he is told’, ‘engage in a rat race’, than begin to lift the burden to of his own existence, independent of outside assistance, or begin facing the ‘incurable mendacity’, to forget about raising the question of going beyond the incurableness…. ‘Humans are pathetically social’, writes another author. Therefore, ‘Hush it up’, goes the common wisdom, whenever the social life with all its inherited systems, runs into a cul de sac where there is a danger of its extermination. Thus one must not be surprised to see Lahore elites, semi-elites and wannabe-elites being not too different from their Indian counterparts, or are at least moving in a similar direction, as far as the rat races go (my response to Shakuntala above). This is my subjective assessment…

    My two cents? The questions of ‘identity’, ‘citizenship’, ‘forms of government’ are only a veneer of a much deeper and latent problem; the fundamental existential crisis. Unless this crisis is bluntly faced with all its labyrinthine consequences, there will always by a pathetic fight over a pathetic cause…


    PS. Thank you Mr. Anjum for putting up this forum.
    PPS. Google Robert Masters, Jean Houstan and Rick Strassman…

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 18:03h, 12 March

      Anadil: I have a number of reservations about your generalizations. First, you claim that individual rights of citizens cannot be ensured (“It can’t be done”). But individual rights are protected much more in some places than in others. If it can’t be done, how does one account for this variation? Second, you claim that “violence will not go away… it is here to stay.” The article does not talk about violence in general but specifically about political and ideological violence within countries. Here, too, there is great variation among countries. How does one account for that variation? Finally, after making these sweeping claims that nothing can be done and nothing will go away, you change course at the end by argiung that the problem will be solved if “the [existential] crisis is bluntly faced.” So, perhaps some countries have faced that existential crisis “with all its labyrinthine consequences” better than others. In a way, this was what the article had set out to explore – what led to the different outcomes?

    • Anadil Saeed
      Posted at 13:19h, 13 March

      I don’t think a discourse on any form violence is possible without looking at its generic behavior. I am convinced that if violence in one form such as political or ideological may decrease in some place, it may increase in some other way. For example, a person engaged in ascetic practices or a hermit life, by trying to attain a certain spiritual apotheosis has disassociated himself from the possibility of inflicting political or ideological violence, but his violence has taken a different form. He is now effectively at war with himself. More than that I hold, that by analyzing one form of violence, one can pass positive and negative claims about another form of violence, because fundamentally, all violence is a representation of conflicting urges. By considering urges operating within the framework of one form of violence, we have empowered ourselves to speak on another form of violence, because the underpinning urges are not different. If a particular urge grabs hold of a given human being for some time or a group of human beings for some time, it acts as a unifying principle, and violence for that period of time ceases for that group, or for that human. If documented rights are upheld in some places more effectively than others, my question is, for how long would it be possible?

      All rights are fundamentally unprovable and rest upon ideas and assumptions which cannot and do not justify themselves. George Calin speaks, ‘How come when its Human its called Abortion, and when its a Chicken, its called Omlette?’ There will be at least four kinds of people emerging in the face of this question:

      1. Those who will advocate abortion and omlette,
      2. Those who will advocate omlette but not abortion,
      3. Those who will advocate neither abortion nor omlette,
      4. Those who will advocate abortion but not omlette.

      My question was, what are the origins of these three different moralities? (Which is essentially your question). And it is here that I further added, it ‘can’t be done’! One set of people will have to be castrated for the others to live, since one set of urges will have to be castrated for others to live. How does one go about doing it? And castration is not merely physical or physiological. Tolerance is also a form of self-castration, because someone is downgrading a personal urge for a purely impersonal force, with no hope of return of anything in anyway.

      As for the [existential] crisis… I asked the same friend who returned from Germany, about how he felt about the ‘self-consciousness’ of German people. He remarked that German urban centers, despite their spiritual and psychological crisis, the kind of which Pakistan has not yet faced, are extremely organized and self-conscious people, that is they know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it. They have faced their demons… but they have become helpless before it. But some are still keeping the fight. I asked him to compare Urban Germany with Lahore Urban Elite. He said, that the Lahore elite are self-obsessed psuedos who have thrown aside all their cultural inheritance in favor of a hollow hollywood culture and at the same time not even touched the dust of Europe. ‘But we are not all that bad’, I pressed. This friends likes to travel a lot. He said ‘No. We are not.’ According to him Pakistan is more self-conscious; the isolated northern hilly areas, away from civilization, live in harmony with themselves, their devils and their neighbors. How come? Because people there have nothing to do but to befriend themselves all day long…

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 16:39h, 14 March

      Anadil: I find the proposition extremely mechanical that everyone is endowed with a fixed amount of violence and if some parts of it decrease, others will increase and everything will even out over time. And if you can’t equate them then you can redefine tolerance as another kind of violence. And if this balance theory really holds how come the people in the northern areas live in harmony? What happened to their violence? I suppose having nothing to do is also another kind of violence.

      How long can rights be upheld? Long enough for some lifetimes which is better than nothing.

    • Anadil Saeed
      Posted at 03:30h, 15 March

      Yes, it is mechanical… and finding it mechanical will not decrease its truth value, though its truth value may still be ambiguous. I hold that the individuals in the hilly areas have been violent with themselves in some way, in the past. Or, that a subset of the people. from whom today’s proportion of hilly inhabitants descend have been active ascetics, hermits and sages, from whose transmitted teachings, doctrines etc they significantly draw and regulate their lives, especially if an unforeseen crisis confronts them. This explains their relatively stable lifestyle. But this thesis still needs empirical support.

      Let me elaborate further. Individuals who engage in political and ideological violence, do not usually engage in domestic violence, and those who engage in domestic violence, do not usually engage in political and ideological violence. In a recent article on this forum, I was reading a comment by an Indian Student, on how it has become common practice in certain Indian Higher Education Institutes, to sexually abuse and sodomize incoming freshman, a practice still absent in Pakistan, or if it occurs, persecution follows (more or less). I don’t think the perpetrators of this form of violence will ever have the fortitude to engage in ideological violence, simply because the sophistication of intellect required to create and sustain an ideological stance and consequently to wage ideological violence, all of which may presuppose a significant history of a given individual’s intellectual struggles (violence with oneself), would be absent in them.

      The fact that this discussion continues, shows, that both of us, have for quite some time, in the form of formal intellectual training extending over years of schooling, and then university education, have endowed us with the capacity to bear and wage intellectual violence, because we are well-versed in its arts. Again, our domain of violence has changed. The fundamental urges, have not. Nietzsche writes, in his ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, ‘Grow your Devil. Even for you there is a Way to Greatness.’

      As for the last question, the very realization that all rights are based on assumptions irrationally factory-fitted to make somethings holier than others, makes the answer of extension of rights to lifetimes irrelevant and meaningless. This is how I see it. Others may diverge…

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 05:35h, 15 March

      Anadil: I don’t see the evidence that ideological violence requires sophistication of intellect. And, if everything we do is disguised violence there is not much to discuss.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 04:01h, 16 March Reply

    Anadil: I also don’t think being at war with oneself is violence directed at self or the violence manifests in some form or other like energy taking different forms but cannot be reduced or increased. Is adventure sport violence against self or the Olympics greatest gathering of masochists?

  • Anadil Saeed
    Posted at 11:31h, 16 March Reply

    First of all I would like to disown the idea, that I am proposing some ‘Principle of Conservation of Total Violence’. Yes, there is a mechanic to violence, and yes it changes its forms, but I would not so easily draw parallels with the concepts of Physics and concepts of Psychology, though there maybe immense similarities.

    Secondly, the discussion doesn’t end by realizing that ‘everything we do is disguised violence’, it merely continues with the understanding, that everything we do, may always contain some disguised violence, whether we like to talk about it or not.

    William James, while studying the psychology of religion, draws a distinction between two types of attitudes, ‘the healthy-minded’ and the attitude of the ‘sick-soul’. Now when James talk about sickness, he doesn’t mean sickness in the usual sense. More than that, these two attitudes can be seen functional, outside the domain of what we may commonly like to call ‘religion’. The healthy soul is that which has not been touched by anxiety. It lives in oblivion of the nature of dread and anxiety. I think most individuals who engage in adventure sports and Olympics belong to this group, and they need not be masochists, while they are at it. The Sick-Soul is different. It has been touched by anxiety to the core and has suffered what contemporary existential psychologists refer to as the threat of ontological non-being and what the psychoanalysts call a direct threat to the immortality project of a given individual. The sickness increases in proportion to the extent of threat and its elongation in time. You can find the emergence of such a crisis in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and also in the works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. And I think you will find it in the founders of any significant movement that has made any global impact, such as Protestant Christianity with Martin Luther, being the case. I think you will find traces of it even in the writings of the mystical sects of various religions. Unless, I am wrong, it was precisely this state that St. John of Cross, called, ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ and what Al-Qushayri from the Muslim side called the states of ‘bast’ (expansion) and ‘qabd’ (contraction), as opposed to ‘hope’ and ‘fear’, which they considered as peripheral states, still belonging at a distance, where as ‘qabd’ and ‘bast’ were ‘active ever-present realities’.

    To move away from religion and philosophy, consider the case of Mas Oyama. He is the progenitor of a school of Karate, known as ‘Kyokushin Kai Kan’. This man was not engaging in typical ‘adventure sport’, and serves as an example of a typical sick-soul, as a review of his biography would show; a man politically disappointed, always a Korean alien in Japan, wandering, homeless and frustrated, he also lost many of his dear friends in WWII. He spent years training in the mountains, in total isolation, simultaneously engaging in deep meditative practices. I had in mind violence of this form. I don’t think most individuals taking part in Olympics and ‘adventure sports’ have given rise to or are usually capable of giving rise to entire schools, claiming millions of adherents, which do not identify themselves as much with ‘sport’, but with a ‘way of life’, as Mas Oyama did; creating a system with its in-built constitutional and regulatory mechanisms, which partially manifested in the form of the famous Dojo Oath, that was needed to admit new-comers. So you see when I talked about violence, I had a ‘Wounded-Healer’ in mind, to use a phrase coined by Rollo May.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 23:28h, 18 March Reply

    Anadil: I don’t get your point. You are saying that everything we do may have some kind violence associated with it. Beats me! How most acts like listening to music, going about our business in office or students going to college to learn may have some kind of violence.

    Then you make distinction between Olympic sportsmen and some obsessive guy responsible for creating cult of Karate. Because he succeeded in creating a cult following therefore he is different from other obsessive men who have not succeeded in creating some kind of institution. Don’t you think being at the right place at the right time when somebody better isn’t there matters a great deal in creating such iconic following? This aside what else is the difference?

    • Anadil Saeed
      Posted at 07:15h, 19 March

      I am not saying that going to office or business or students going to college has associated violence… What I would argue is that the creation of the ethic of schooling, or business, and their institutionalization in the life of humanity has its origins. Schooling did not always exist… or did it? It came about at certain points in history in specific places. The individuals who might have originally participated in the creation of these ethics and institutions, which have survived till today, would have showed obsessive and psychopathic temperaments, and violence with themselves in some way. Taking the case of schooling at least in the Western Hemisphere, may owe its origins in significant aspects to such original thinkers as Socrates or Pythagoras, who also had ‘cult’ followings. Similarly, when the question of Olympics is raised, I would not argue with respect to people who today participate in the games or those who amuse themselves by them, I would try to seek out the originators of the very idea that there should be ‘Games’ and that public should amuse themselves by considering them. For that too we must go all the way back to Greeks… or some other ancient Civilization.

      The key word is ‘institution’. I believe if certain ‘rights’ are upheld in certain areas more than others, then somehow, within the psyche of that population, the importance of such ‘rights’ has become ingrained so much, over the course of centuries, that it has become interlinked with their deeply embedded ‘immortality projects’ or ‘meaning systems’ or ‘hero systems’ (to quote phrases hurled in psychology), whether or not at the collective level, the people are aware of the originator(s) of these ‘rights’, or bother asking why these particular ‘rights’ and not others.

      Being at the right place at the right time, when somebody better isn’t there, acts as a compelling (and castrating) force for any given individual to produce creative solutions to problems confronted. However, it is not guaranteed a priori, whether any given individual would be able to bear the weight of the emerging conflict and keep enough sanity and creative fortitude to not only give rise to a new ethic which may put an end to the immediate conflict but also be able to effect such an ethic within his lifetime. All of this may happen, with the very real possibility, which such an individual may realize that no matter what he does, or how he does it, the newly created ethic would either fail (that is, it would be unrealistic), or the population he is trying to assist would not listen or worse, lynch him. The realization of this possibility (and others) gives rise to violence with oneself, since the possibility of assistance becomes extremely conditional. The goal of the violence, which would also regulate its extent, type and intensity, may be nothing more than to keep the physiology of this person sufficiently functional so as to accurately analyze the emerging conflict and allow for a potentially creative solution to actuate. So, being at the right place at the right time is an insufficient indicator to predict ‘success’, as a review of psychiatric institutions would readily show, as well as a rising tide of suicides, where individuals in the presence of a dangerous conflict did not so easily perceive themselves to be at the right place at the right time, but at the wrong place at the wrong time…

      I have an interesting movie in mind. Consider ‘The Downfall’, a 2004 German Movie, depicting the last days of Adolf Hitler in his bunker. Forget about the atrocities while viewing the movie, but focus on the emerging Psychodynamic among various members of the Third Reich, as the War drew to a close.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 14:50h, 19 March Reply

    I am not convinced. Apparently you are substituting violence for hard work and effort. I believe when we say violence inflicted on oneself we use it as metaphor great strain. We can’t inflict violence on ourselves except as clinically defined masochism.

    • Anadil Saeed
      Posted at 19:22h, 20 March

      Reviewing the above discussion, I think we can define three broad categories for violence upon oneself:

      1. Violence done under significant distress and strain, such as suicide or self-punishment, in which the notion of guilt may or may not be invoked, and further it need not be systematic. Pleasure is not derived from such violence, and it may occur recurrently and perhaps even abruptly, in the life of an individual (or a society?). A potential source of this violence could be the actualization of a direct threat to the deeply embedded immortality project of a given human being (or society?). In the Movie quoted above, there are plenty of examples of this type of behavior, though it does not exhaustively captures them. Other examples include, Tolstoy’s ‘Confessions’, Anna Karenina’s death, King Lear, Kashmiris, Palestinians, psychiatry etc.

      2. Violence done upon oneself, as a consequence of a goal, which has become necessary for some individual to work upon and actualize. Such violence may take extreme forms (e.g. active asceticism), and may earn the disapproval of society, though this is not necessary. This form of violence does not rest upon a pleasure principle, and may be highly systematic. Further the goal itself need not be selfish and may be extremely selfless.The above example of Mas Oyama, may be a classical example, though there are thousands of others, in a large variety of contexts. Mohatma Gandhi for instance, where the goal was unambiguously selfless? You may call it hard work and effort but it is typically much more than usual hard work and effort. Further this form of violence need not be focused on the body, and could be ‘intellectual’. In this form, this violence would constitute a serious history of intellectual struggle of a given human, and an emergence of an explicitly demarcated world-view or philosophy. e.g. Faiz, Iqbal, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Marx, Lenin, Nietzsche etc.

      3. Violence done upon oneself systematically, primarily for the fulfillment of some pleasure principle. This includes clinically defined masochism.

      When I spoke of violence, I had the first and the second categories in mind. I believe your focus was on the third, and hence an apparent disagreement. Coming back to the question of political and ideological violence, which this article was dealing with, Mr. Anjum argues at the beginning of the essay, that ‘violent’ solutions are suggested because institutions for ‘peaceful’ solutions are not in place. I tried to argue, though I got carried away by Nietzschean Ethics, is that for a transition to be made from the current ‘violent’ state to a future ‘peaceful’ state would require the generation of Violence of Type 1 and Type 2 in large sectors of that society. Once it has happened, some individuals within that society would be in a position to propose new ethics and generate appropriate institutions, and would hopefully be taken seriously enough to compel the people to adopt those ethics and institutions, though whether they would work or not, cannot be guaranteed a priori, just like a science experiment.

      However I also said, ‘it can’t be done’. This is because sooner or later a new conflict would emerge in that society, that would require another set of willing humans to put themselves on the crucifixion cross, for the rest to function properly. That is all forms of peace may only a have a finite time value, after which it would expire, and lasting peace (and order?) may never come…

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 10:43h, 12 October Reply

    A useful reference. In South Asia, political thought has not moved beyond the point where the body is the appropriate locus of legitimate punishment.

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