For centuries they have gazed benevolently from their mountain homes as wars raged across the Afghan plains. But now the two massive Buddha statues could themselves become casualties. The statues, carved into the sides of the mountains bordering the central province of Bamiyan during the second and third centuries, are under fire from Islamic Taliban movement. Frescoes on the walls surrounding the statues, as well as grottoes dug in the fifth and sixth centuries by Buddhist monks, have all but disappeared through neglect. It is not just their size which makes the statues unique. Both are dressed in togas of a Grecian style imported into India by the soldiers of Alexander the Great when he invaded the region in 334-327 B.C. Inspired by one invader, they now face another -- the Taliban.
The biggest tragedy in the last one hundred years- the Holocaust- is a pointer to understand the perils of the temporal axis. In his monumental work Hitler's Willing Executioners, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen establishes that Holocaust was made possible not just by Hitler and his Nazi team but through the willful support and enthusiastic energy of ten of thousands of ordinary Germans. Right from the days of Christianity's consolidation of its hold over the Roman Empire, he argues that, its leaders preached against Jews. The theological need impelling Christians to differentiate themselves from the bearers of the religion from which their own had broken off, was born anew with each generation.
The temporal axis comes from the idea of shared heritage. Christians conceived of their religion as superseding Judaism. Therefore Jews as Jews ought to disappear from the earth. They ought to become Christians. But Jews would not and this meant that Jews and Christians shared a common heritage- the most important part of which was the Jewish Bible with its God inspired words- to which Christians and Jews gave conflicting interpretations. Unable to accept the fact that the text can mean two different things to two different sections, it was reduced to a contested terrain. If Jews were right, then Christians were wrong. Another temporal residue that accentuates the Christian hostility towards Jews is the belief that Jews were the killers of Christ. It's not just the Jews of Jesus' time responsible for Jesus' death but Jews for all time because the contemporary Jews also reject the idea of Jesus as messiah and hence, by continuance implicate themselves in the historical crime.
I am tempted to conclude that the burden of the scriptural history, the temporal axis, was over with the horrors of the holocaust and the emergence of politically correct narratives. Even as I write this sentence I know that it would be grave to arrive at such conclusions. After fighting with a faith that preceded them, now it seems the Christians are fighting a faith that succeeded them- Islam. Islam has all the traits of Judaism. It shares the same heritage. It shares the same spatio-temporal trajectory. And it is still the most obvious other. Today Islam is equated with barbarism, dictatorship, misogynism, medivealism and anti-progress. (Isn't progress the most preferred son of temporality?) What actually confounds the case is that now the earlier descendants of the same heritage- Jews and Christians- in the form of Israel and the West- have buried their differences only to launch a new joint crusade against the later offspring of their heritage-Islam.
But such a temporal belief boomerangs very badly. Some of the Jews who fled Germany fearing Nazi persecution were instrumental in the theory underpinning the development of atomic weapons. The expelled Jews forced the pace and orchestrated the production of mass destruction. The key figures of this moment of defining human history were Oppenheimar, a descendant of German speaking Jews from Prague and Albert Einstein, that great wandering Jew who discovered the theory of relativity. The unrelenting destruction of the Holocaust fueled the ultimate destructivity. If the hunting down of the Jews gave birth to Atomic weapons, the ruthless demonisation of Islam has produced biological weapons and chemical weapons. The major problem with the temporal belief is that it takes a singular trajectory. Has it ever been possible for the millions and millions of people to look at Time as Times where every moment represented different notions and ideas to different people?
Let me elaborate this idea. Until, recently the main centres of Jewish population and religious culture lay in the countries ruled by Muslims. Most of the Jews belonged to the main stream of Jewish life. They accepted the authority of the Talmud, the body of interpretation and discussion of Jewish law. Talmud was not collected and compiled in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem but in Iraq.
How did such a fairy tale-like brotherhood turn into the present bloody confrontation? Every region of the Arab world, has its own story of how their dream turned into nightmare. There are endless nuances and variations. But, the only linking aspect is its unmistakable temporal element. While much is said about how Christianity has been wiped out of Middle East, the fact remains that the Christians are a very confident lot in Syria. In fact, Aramic, the language of Jesus Christ is spoken only in a handful of towns in Syria like Qamishli which lies in the Turkey-Syria border. Am I sounding like an unadultereted Islamic apologist? Read the first story to get your impression right.
In today's world, people have been refugees in most of the places waiting for some country to accept them. Their life is unreal, a waiting without expectation. Rwanda and Somalia; North Eastern Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, East Timor and El Salvador, Mynmar and Kampuchea. But fifty years ago it would have been Rome and Berlin; Tokyo and Athens; London and Paris. Ill-fate moves both in the time axis and the space axis. However, what time cannot provide at a given moment space can provide- space to live. While most of the history books talks about the greed to capture land and the ever present expansionist urge of the nation-states, my own doubt is that the desire is not a spatial expansion but a temporal one where the spatial expansion can be the means for that end.
All the stories I have told so far relate to the sectarian violence and the three major religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are as venal as the other though they ostensibly meant to propagate love and brotherhood. Looking at the defiled Buddha face, splashed in 8 column colour, a sense of betrayal runs through my veins. My anger is not just towards Taliban militiamen but towards every segment of humanity which believes in restoring the 'historic glory' of that particular segment. How can I tell the segment that there is nothing called a "golden era" and every moment in history has its own skewedness and misanthropic aspects? How can I explain that one cannot selectively recover certain elements of the past without critiquing the past for its innumerable follies and at the same time identifying the elements of traditional wisdom? How does one explain to the Jews that they cannot do to Palestine what the Germans did to them? How does one make the Western intelligentsia understand that bigotry is not the exclusive preserve of Islamic fundamentalists but a scourge that inflicts all the religions and faiths and to draw to their attention the bloody war between the Catholics and the Protestants that is going on in Ireland?
How can I tell the Hindu bigots in my country who righteously write letters to the editors condemning the Taliban that the very heinous act of demolishing the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya by the Hindu fanatics was the precursor for the Taliban to learn methods for demolishing a site of great heritage? How can I tell the Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka, who provide the ideological impetus for the state-sponsored violence against the Tamils, that the fate of Buddha at Bamyian in Afghanistan is no different from the numerous Hindu temples in North and East of Sri Lanka which were desecrated by the holy forces of Buddhism? How can I tell the minority Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are the victims of Sinhala- Buddhism majority not to inflict violence on the Tamil Muslims, who are minorities among the minorities?
If we go through the stories narrated here and then the questions posed it seems that humanity learns nothing from history. History repeated itself as farce, as tragedy, as comedy and even as tragic-comedy. And it has made itself clear that it will keep repeating itself. Here the key issue is that history is the problem of history. Time Immemorial. Eternity. Infinite. The host of pre-eras. The host of post-eras. The retinue of neo-eras. If I say stone age, then there comes the pre-stone age. Ice-age has pre-Ice age. Colonialism has post-colonialism. Modernism has a younger brother Post modernism. The strange thing is that even a concept like medievalism which is neatly sandwiched between ancient and modern, has a recurring cousin called neo-medievalism ( a term used by the western academia to explain the warlords in Africa today). While some of the faiths talk about rebirths, others have after-life in heaven or in hell. Time refuses to set its own boundaries fueling the imagination-however grotesque it might be- to create an ideal, exclusive place for any chosen identity. The identity can be linguistic, religious, communal, regional or even continental.
What will happen if you shift this Time axis to the Space axis? Isn't space too infinite? What about all those galaxies and distant stars? What about that wonderful unit of measurement called light year? Isn't space too boundary-less? Can you be sure where the Milkyway actually ends and our neighbouring galaxy starts? I know that these and many other similar questions will be posed the moment I say that we should look at the axis of Space rather than Time.
Space might be infinite; but the space available for living is finite. The species on this earth cannot live anywhere else. And even within the earth the space available for each species is species-specific. Obviously monkeys cannot live in sea and fish on land. Earth is not an inheritance of just humanity but of all living beings. Now the space available becomes not only finite but also limited. It's not just history which is temporal. The idea of economic growth is also temporal. We measure growth using words like GDP, GNP, turnovers, budget allocations, spendings, earnings in terms of time. These figures are computed on an hourly or daily or weekly or monthly or annual basis. Every year has another year; a bad year may follow or succeed a good year. And if growth stops, the metabolism of modern economics ceases to exist.
Jean Baudrillard describes the mystique of GNP as a collective bluff on the part of modern societies and he provides a bizarre example to prove it. "The 30 per cent reduction in the luminosity of air in Paris over the past 50 years is regarded as external and non-existent by the accountants. But it results in a greater expenditure of electrical energy, of light bulbs and spectacles, then it exists- and exists, moreover, as an increase in production and social wealth." Just as medieval society was balanced on God and the Devil, according to Baudrillard, ours is balanced on consumption and its denunciation. He said: "Our magic is white. No heresy is possible any longer in a state of affluence". But, for a person like me from a society that is not affluent, the bleakness of this white magic is apparent. We know that the space is limited; so are the resources. We know that the earth is a common inheritance and every section of humanity as well as all other living beings have inalienable right to dwell on her and also the duty to know that she cannot withstand this notion of growth. She already moans at temporalising of her wonderful space.' It's very far and it takes six hours' is the sentence that has replaced 'it's very far and it's thirty thousand miles'. Surface traveling created a sense of belonging to the space. With that being increasingly replaced by air or underground, only Time axis is seen as the guiding principle. Unless we start seeking answers for the space on which we live on a "Here and Now" basis, the Time will end and the judgment day is not very far.