Saturday, 3 December 2016

(Im)moral Politics: Politics without Guilt

Camus on the Choice Between Politics and Morality

In these testing times as chaos reigns and people talk about conscience in politics one recalls Albert Camus, one of the towering writers of the 20th century and revered as “moral conscience of his age,”  whose hero said in The Plague ( a novel about pestilence in Oran that one especially recalls living in plagued Kashmir and one can perhaps identify some major  elements and characters  in it and the problem it engages with around us without much difficulty) : “I have no idea what's awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” Elsewhere he remarks: “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is.”
      Those who truly see God acting in history and our lives agree with Camus’ statement “Do not wait for the last judgment. It comes every day.”  He is unsparing in his view of genesis of moral evil: “The evil that is in the world always comes out of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding.”  “On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.” It is ideologies that kill. It is fundamentalisms of all hues that have little hesitation in killing the other. It is ultimately the ignorance regarding the other that makes one bold and consider killing. One can’t kill for belief or ideology or on holier than thou attitude according to the most traditional authorities. Jihad is for making our world safe against forces of injustice/trivialization of life. 
      Despite horrendous evil he saw around, especially during the World War II, he preserved what is best understandable as grace emanating from faith: “And despite the clamors and the violence, we tried to preserve in our hearts the memory of a happy sea, of a remembered hill, the smile of a beloved face. For that matter, this was our best weapon, the one that we shall never put away. For as soon as we lost it we should be as dead as you are.” 

      As one of Camus’s favourite authors, Leo Tolstoy, famously declared, “tranquillity is a dishonesty of the soul,” and, as Sherman notes,  Camus’s “soul” was much too honest to have ever been tranquil. Camus sought to replace politics with morality, grew up, morality itself was not even a part of his vocabulary. He fought against death sentence, Marxist use of violence and other forms of violence in the very attitude of  judging others. He remarks “'People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.” So much back biting we find because we fear we deserve it in our turn. Whose hands  are free of guilt? Can any leader or subject in Kashmir exonerate himself from this guilt?

      Camus’ ethics is summed up in the following statements: “It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” “When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him.” God is, in the Quranic vocabulary, Al-Hayy (The Living) and it implies all life is grounded in Him. The deepest meaning of faith in Muhammad ur Rasullullah is affirmation of the Principle of Manifestation or Life against death or inexistence. Durood is blessing this spirit or principle of Life. And when life is in danger even sacred law is suspended and one can use haram (unlawful) food to save it. Thus life is supreme and nothing in the whole world can justify killing an innocent person and the latter is equivalent to killing whole of humanity as the Quran says. To be on the side of executioners is a choice one can only make if one refuses one’s own humanity and debases life.

      Those who have been touched by God or ultimate truth become humble and lose tranquillity in order to wipe every tear they can and renounce all possessive claims. “If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the man or party that claims to possess it.” It is given to those who sell everything in the path of Love.  We read in The Plague: “And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one's work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”  “When I was young, I asked more of people than they could give:  everlasting friendship, endless feeling. Now I know to ask less of them than they can give:  a straightforward companionship. And their feelings, their friendship, their generous actions seem in my eyes to be wholly miraculous:  a consequence of grace alone.” It is this test that most politicians today fail – they are not loved but feared, they work on the assumption of universal mistrust (what else informs modern war theory or grabbing/sticking to political power at any cost) and no tears flow when they leave the stage of life and nobody remembers them with the suffix rahmatullahi alleh.

      Camus’s ethic converges with the Christian or more precisely mystical ethic. Regardless of theological position taken, our great writers say essentially the same thing when it comes to affirming or living fundamental rhythms of life.  “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.” It is in the name of this revolt   – “I rebel, therefore I am” – that Camus asks us to choose morality over amoral politics. Politicians too can provide  great examples of ethically grounded action. If today we condemn Nehru for complicity in partition (as Azad testifies)  or condemn Shaikh Abdullah for his role in landing Kashmir into its present predicament or debate Israel’s and US’s policies, it is in the name of an ethic. Ultimately those politicians are remembered as statesman who don’t sell their souls to power but do politics in the sense philosophers from Aristotle to Farabi to Voegelin defined it.

India’s claim on Kashmir may be politically correct for some of its leaders (and some Kashmiri leaders) but whether it is morally correct is the question. And if it isn’t, it means it has to pay the price if history is ultimately in the hands of God or it is actualization of Absolute Spirit or man is a moral being and history is constituted by actions of men. “God sees the truth but waits” as Tolstoy illustrated in one of his great stories and He waits because people need to ripen, to be purged, to serve other higher causes of which they mayn’t be conscious. Kashmir is waiting for God’s judgment that, in its own subtle way, is happening every day.  Camus  cautions us regarding inhumanity of every political choice that uses people as means and opts for violence. Territories may be captured by violence but loyalty can’t. India has failed to trust Kashmiris because it knows deep down it doesn’t deserve it and can’t trust even if the other party may trust it. This is the tragedy of all Kashmiris including its leaders.  India has created a hell for itself that shows through ‘failure of its gaze being returned’ from Kashmiris. There are no lovers, no friends for India in Kashmir now. It is only feared or used. Although India’s (or more precisely pre-partition India’s)  great spiritual and cultural heritage is revered and its metaphysics is the heart of its Sufi worldview but its present political dispensation is judged in terms of its own avowed categories of insainiyat and jumhooriat and dharma to be a moral and political failure that invites mistrust. Hearts and minds aren’t won by those who seem to have lost both. However there is faith in Indian people, its intellectuals, its genuine spiritual leadership with whom there are many indissoluble bonds. It is hoped politics willn’t supplant or trample ethics.

No comments:

Post a Comment