I was in Bangladesh on a project with some IMD MBA candidates late last year when in neighbouring Myanmar atrocities were being committed against the Rohingyas; some 200 were killed and 120,000 were made homeless. The Rohingyas are Muslims, in a predominantly Buddhist nation; while their ethnic origins lie in what today is called Bangladesh, as the Burmese journalist-in-exile (in neighbouring Thailand) Aung Zaw wrote in a recent article, these people are not recent immigrants or refugees, but have been there since the 13th century. For centuries Muslims and Buddhists cohabited in peace; in the 19th century, Aung Zaw tells us, “under the reformist King Mindon, mosques were built and thousands of Muslims served in Burmese infantry and artillery divisions. Mindon even helped build a hostel in Mecca for Burmese Muslims making the pilgrimage, or hajj”. Earlier this year violence resumed.
It is sad, but true, to say that the plight of the Rohingyas and other minorities (such as the Kachin) in Burma correspond to a global pattern, indeed even possibly a paradigm. One must not stretch things too far and each atrocity has its own narrative, but surely one question that arises in respect to the Boston marathon bombing by the Muslim Chechen brothers Tsarnaev, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar: why so much hate?
Sarajevo used to represent a global village
From 2002 to 2006 I used to bring the entire IMD MBA class (90 persons from about 45 different nationalities) to Sarajevo for a week. The intensive visit included in-depth discussions with representatives from the different communities, from government/s, business, religious bodies, think tanks and academes, artists, and civil society. The aim was to try to understand how a society could implode into fratricide and ultimately commit suicide as was the case with Bosnia-Herzegovina. The conventional wisdom that this “had to” happen due to the differences is not supported by facts. For decades, Sarajevo, which has within a very close parameter an Orthodox cathedral, a Catholic cathedral, a Mosque and a Synagogue, was a highly integrated society with over thirty percent of marriages inter-denominational. Sarajevans thought of themselves above all as Sarajevans.
I used to tell the MBA participants that visiting Sarajevo was important in its own right, but also that it represented a microcosm of the world. If there is a global village, it could be Sarajevo.
India as an example of non-violence
Let me hasten to add in the context of these rather gloomy thoughts that by no means is it the case that the entire planet is a failure. I am at the moment of writing in India. India is not strictly speaking “one nation” in that it is composed of a cluster of numerous highly heterogeneous ethnic, linguistic, religious nations. As the young Indian author, Pallavi Aiyar, who wrote a brilliant book on China, Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China, and is now writing a book on Europe, points out, there is in fact in many respects far more in common between India and Europe than between India and China, which, a number of minorities notwithstanding, is far more homogenous.
India did experience the terrible atrocities and tragedies emanating from the Partition in 1947. The act of Partition was Britain’s irresponsibility – “Divide and Rule then Quit”. Had London listened to Gandhi it might not have happened. There have been a number of communitarian flare-ups, but fundamentally India’s is in some respects a remarkable success story.
Ghandi’s peace and love
Gandhi was a martyr. He was assassinated for propagating his beliefs of “peace and love”; peace between religious communes and love across all castes, especially the untouchables, the Harijan or children of god as he called them. In this apparently so far failed era of globalisation – in terms of creating a global village – when Muslims (Sunni and Shia), Buddhists, Hindus, Christians (Protestants and Catholics), Jews (Sephardic and Ashkenazim), incite hate between and against each other, perhaps adoption of and conversion to “Gandhism” might be part of an answer. At the very least, surely there is a lot to be said in favour of non-violence.