One of the most evocative programmes recently screened on television has been a series marking the 70th anniversary of the partition of the south-Asian sub-continent which gave rise to the creation of newly defined nations of Pakistan and India.
Immediately following the Second World War, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma was appointed Viceroy of India with the vital remit to oversee a partition which might prevent the occurrence of civil war breaking out between rival religious groups. This would then herald India obtaining her independence in 1948. A thankless job and very much a poisoned chalice— with, as history has since shown, the actual decision about the line of partition being taken secretly in London.
Partition is always a tragedy. In 1947 it gave rise to millions of refugees fleeing violence in India, seeking their safety in the newly created nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Literally, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children perished. Such was the horror experienced that many involved never related the tale even to younger members of their own family. Instead, the anger, fear and resentment felt became sublimated for decades.
The television series takes a number of Indian and Pakistani UK residents to the subcontinent to discover the truth of what their own forebears experienced and to meet some of the few survivors of that time who had personal knowledge of their relatives.
To eavesdrop as their story is told is a humbling experience both for the young relative and for the TV listener. The harrowing tales of violence and fear have an understandably devastating emotional effect. All of which makes it easier to understand the tension and suspicion that still exists between the people of these nations even though so much time has passed. Something that is sadly all the more troubling when one realizes that both those nations are nuclear powers.
Seventy years on and, it seems, the world has still not yet learned from the human toll and collateral devastation such enforced action can cause. Indeed, as recent events have shown, the world is full of lines of partition—whether it be sectarianism here in Scotland, the bigotry and hatre of ultra-Right, neo-Nazi groups in the United States or the military posturing of North Korea.
‘Where there is no room for difference there is no room for humanity’
This matters because — as Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi reminds us *— all these things reflect how societies treat the Other, the one-not-like-us. Yet, a nation that has no room for ‘difference’ has no room for humanity. None of us is exactly the same as another: each of us is irreplaceable.
Our world is awash with hate across religious divides. Thus far, we have misunderstood the world in which we live. Ours is not an age of secular ideologies. It is a era of desecularisation. Our greatest challenge is not political, or military, or economic. It is, in the most profound sense spiritual.
What rescued Europe from its last age of religious wars in the 17th century, was not weapons, but ideas: those of Milton, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke and their like that laid the foundations for religious liberty and a free society. Thus far into this 21st century, we have been blessed by unprecedented technological advance, but few new ideas.
‘Scandal of the Church’s lack of confidence in its own Gospel’
The Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, has recently claimed Scottish Catholics are too ‘wishywashy’ about their faith. Writing in an American publication, the Archbishop states that the “new religious consensus in the UK is a combination of skepticism, consumer appetite and political intolerance. It masks itself with progressive vocabulary but its targets tend to be practicing Christians.”
What the Archbishop is pointing to is the scandal of the Churches’ lack of confidence in its own gospel. Our world is crying out in its pain for serious spiritual work to be done. We need theological courage. Common to Judaism and Islam, Christianity says that every human being, regardless of colour, class or creed, is in the image of God. Our shared humanity must take precedence over all our religious differences.
Until we are prepared to take this seriously, intolerance and injustice will hold sway; people will continue to kill in the name of the God of Life and practice cruelty in the name of the God of Compassion.
And God, himself, will weep.
*’The hate that starts with Jews never ends there.’ The Times (16.08.2014).