September 11 was the day a Hindu seer, from the most ancient order of monks in the world, unveiled a grand vision of religion before the world. The monk was Swami Vivekananda, the place, the city of Chicago in the US, and the year was 1893
September 11 was the day a Hindu seer, from the most ancient order of monks in the world, unveiled a grand vision of religion before the world. The monk was Swami Vivekananda, the place, the city of Chicago in the US, and the year was 1893.
That day the legendary saint, social reformer, and spiritual master was at his best as an impeccable orator and fantastic communicator. The man extraordinaire was presenting the Idea of India for the first time to an international audience at the Parliament of the World’s Religions through his speech which has since been widely celebrated as the "Great Chicago Speech of the Hurricane Hindu."
Introducing India and her spiritual culture to the western world, Swami Vivekananda presented a novel interpretation of religion as a universal experience of transcendent reality, common to all humanity. Indeed, his speech was a turning point in Parliament. Espousing the idea of toleration and universal acceptance as an antidote to bigotry and fanaticism, he spoke of the validity of every great religion and against all forms of faith-based intolerance.
It was an illuminating event for the cause of humanity. It was the day of light and hope.
Cut to another 9/11 Day. The place, the same great land, and the year 2001.
It was the day the US faced four massive coordinated terror attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda with extreme shock, horror, and numbness. The devastating fatalities, in terms of human lives and human values, were unprecedented. Nearly three thousand innocent lives were taken away by the cruel and savage act. The scars of colossal loss, trauma, and grief still run deep, particularly in the minds and hearts of the families and friends of the affected ones. The singular tragedy in a flash darkened the world leaving behind lingering paranoid, lifetimes of anguish, and debris of hatred and distrust.
It was a cataclysmic event that shamed the cause of humanity. It was the day of darkness and despair.
“Fanaticism has long possessed this beautiful earth”, Vivekananda had lamented on 9/11 Day. “They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair”.
Making a scathing attack on intolerance, sectarianism, bigotry, and fanaticism, and indeed terming them as “horrible demons”, he maintained that “had it not been for these demons, human society would be more advanced than it is now”.
How prophetic and visionary his words were!
Between 1893 and 2001, and thereafter as well, mankind has continued to witness diabolical acts of the fanaticism of varying manifestations and severity. Alongside moral regression, the world is seemingly faced with an endless spectacle of violence and destruction.
Clearly, what all fanatics share is the obstinate refusal to even consider, let alone accept or embrace, any idea that is incompatible to their worldviews? The impulsive, overly-simplistic, zero-sum thinking that accompanies fanaticism leaves little scope for any nuanced, balanced, or holistic solutions. Refusing to engage in productive discussions, they vitiate all goals to synthesize and create a more harmonious, complete whole.
Today this state of excessive, uncritical, and intense zeal is finding expression in domains outside of religion as well. Owing to the rising obduracy and one-dimensional thinking, the civic, political and business leadership across nations are finding it difficult to navigate the environment where they are forced to take aside. By not falling in line, they often run the risk of getting alienated or drawing the ire of an opposing powerful side.
Another disturbing social trend is the growing interest and romanticism in fanaticism among the youth who are uniquely vulnerable. A desire for feeling unique and chosen, coupled with limited self-awareness render them susceptible to many nefarious forms and designs of fanatics.
The tale of the two sharply contrasting events teaches us a common lesson. And the inescapable lesson is that humanity can escape the scourge of fanaticism only by eliminating artificial contradictions, conflicts, divisions of “us versus them” in society.
And the only way out, Swami Vivekananda repeatedly stressed, is the cultivation of a spirit of harmony, tolerance, universal acceptance, and oneness. This is the path we all, with a sense of togetherness and purpose, have to follow to herald “death-knell to fanaticism.”
(The writer is a former bank executive who has authored the book X Factor @Workplace. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)