Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Many fanatic ideologies give us a grand picture of a perfect state, a utopia, which is based on a theory, a religion or a book. According to them, if one were to implement all the stipulated rules and laws laid out in that book, that religion or that theory, we would achieve a utopian state where everything would be perfect and everyone would be happy, all living in beautiful harmony.

According to many religious Muslims across the planet, there is a perfect state that was achieved during the time of Prophet (and for a brief time after him), where people were the happiest, because the rules and laws as laid out in Koran and associated religious books were implemented literally, without any deviations. And therefore, these religious Muslims continuously strive to create a perfect Islamic State, always trying to go back in time, trying to bring back those idyllic times where the world was devoid of modernity and all its associated evils. In that perfect Islamic State, everyone had honey and milk, all women were happy under perfect Koranic laws, and every non-Muslim was protected (as long as they remained subjugated and didn’t assert themselves).

These Muslims came very close to achieving one in the modern times – it’s called Afghanistan, under Taliban, where women were draped in burqas covering entire body except eyes, where robbers were amputated and adulterers were stoned to death in public hearings. Music and television were banned, and women were barred from all official institutions.

The proponents of Islamic State give lot of credit to Taliban for achieving peace in a land that was strife with war for many years. They believe this was achieved only through creation of an Islamic State. If ever it didn’t work out or didn’t last long, it was only because some corrupt and jealous elements had ensured that this perfect Islamic State did not survive, or that members of Taliban did not interpret the religious books properly. Had they interpreted the religious documents properly, had they implemented the rules more strictly, then definitely a utopia would have been achieved.

The fact that thousands were killed, many were deprived of basic human dignity and rights, and that most women were treated like animals usually gets ignored by these religious Muslims. It is seen as collateral damage on the path to recreate a perfect state.

Many religious Muslims around the world condone various excesses in the name of religion. The minute religion enters through the door reason is kicked out. Immigrant Muslim women living in the West, instead of fighting the evils and repressive laws meted out to fellow women living in Muslim world, actually support such laws by proudly wearing the burqa.

Many religious Muslims when cornered into explaining irrationality of their faith, or forced into embracing modernity in secular nations, or asked to live by modern laws, actually come out to support all repressive tenets of their interpreted religion, and this is done to defend their identity and preserve the Muslim way of life. Instead of reforming their own religion to come to terms with changing times, they try to restore the times of Prophet. They rely on resurrection instead of reformation.

Even Indian Muslims gladly embrace the repressive laws in the name of defending their religion against onslaught of (earlier) Western and (now) Hindu religions. During the ill-fated decisions of Shah Bano case, the government of India colluded with oppressive and male-dominated Muslim clergy men to deny an Indian woman her justice promised under Indian secular laws. Indian Muslims continue to believe that their identity is protected only through their personal laws interpreted from their religion.

Many Muslims around the world avow that a perfect state can be achieved if all the laws and principles enunciated in their religious books are strictly followed. They crave for such a state and believe that Shariat and other archaic laws will help them build one. Turkey, which tried to remain secular and modern for most part of the last century, is also succumbing now slowly to conservative tenets of Islam.

Pursuit of utopia is not unique to Muslims. Many other ideologies give a promise of such utopia. That perfect state was either far in the past or is far in the fictitious future, so that no living person can vouch for how it really was or check how it really would be. Most of these utopias include some sacred symbols – books, icons, idols, flags, etc, which remain unassailable, unchallenged and unquestioned. They make up grand stories, figures and statistics to show that the world was indeed perfect. They suppress debate and questioning when it comes to these symbols. People are asked to believe in them relying purely on faith – because ‘it is written so’, or ‘it is said so’. Complete obedience is must in these matters. People are measured by their adherence or allegiance to these sacred symbols. Atrocities are committed, rights are revoked, and people who are considered deviants, liberals or rationalists, are targeted by vigilantes or state police. In some extreme cases, state intervenes directly or indirectly to incarcerate or kill all the voices that doubt its authority.

There are many such promises of utopias.

Some fanatic Hindus, especially those who fight for a Hindu Rashtra, believe that a perfect state existed during the time of Ram, called Ram Rajya, where the world was perfect and everyone was happy. They strive to make India go back in time to those idyllic ancient empire, where the state is guided by Hinduism, where bride burning and ostracism of untouchables was a norm, where castes remained true to their profession, where Brahmins carried out learning and teaching, Kshatriyas ruled and protected, Vaishyas did the trade, Shudras did the manual labor while Untouchables carried human shit on their heads. In that perfect state, women wore saris, children respected their elders, and nobody drank alcohol. According to such Hindus their religion contains all the ideas, rules and principles to lead a harmonious and perfect life, not only for Hindus but for people of all religions. Their Sanatan Dharma accepts all religions within its fold as long as everyone is Hindu or as long as nobody interfered with Hindu way of life. That picture perfect state will bring harmony and exact balance of nature where everyone is slotted into their positions without conflict. If a conflict arose, the laws of Manu can be used to resolve issues– a lower caste person who insulted a high caste person can be punished by thrusting a red-hot iron nail ten-fingers long into his mouth, that’s all.

Fascism also looked into the past to borrow stories of a perfect state to promise a utopia in future. Nazi Germans called their state Third Reich, because there was First Reich and Second Reich in the past, considered great and glorious empires of Germany. Italian Fascists sought to recreate the Great Roman Empire.

Communists looked into the future based on certain books written by Marx and Engels. Out of those books came an autocratic and extremely repressive government suppressing all human rights and killing millions in the process. The followers of those theories believed they had to impose totalitarianism to achieve the grand promise of utopia where every man was equal in wealth and opportunity. For a while, it appeared as though such utopia was achieved after incarcerating and killing millions. But soon it became clear that it was an unstable equilibrium, a flimsy harmony that can dive to anarchy with small disturbance. When it became clear that it didn’t work out, the proponents of Communism claimed that the original theories were not implemented properly. Had they been implemented properly it would have really achieved utopia.

Most of these claimants to utopia, coming from various ideologies, look at past examples of which we have no memories. We are told that in order create that utopia we have to make immense sacrifices, like giving up basic human rights, our dignity and freedoms. Minority and underprivileged groups should make way for the majority and privileged groups. We will have to follow certain strict code, not question it or debate it. We will have to take some extreme actions, such as incarcerating and killing the detractors and opponents, targeting and suppressing people of a certain identity. Only then can we achieve a perfect state.

If history taught us something, it is that there is no room for perfectness because such a thing is impossible. If ever it appears for a moment for some groups, it comes with such a high price for others making it far more imperfect. All our attempts in our history to create that utopia have resulted in great miseries and sufferings to some or all people. However, the claimants to utopia refuse to concede this world cannot be perfect.

The realists, the rationalists and pragmatists accept that there is no such a thing called utopia. That it can never be achieved. That this world is an imperfect world to start with, and that the struggle of man is to make this imperfect world less imperfect. That it is more important to make this world a livable place for all, giving people their freedoms, their rights, their privileges, regardless of their identity, physical handicap, or any affiliation, than try to make a perfect state.

The modern nation, which has come out after struggling with various forms of governments, is definitely not a utopia. Far from it, it does not even give you a promise of utopia. The modern nation not does assert that it is a perfect form of government. It does not guarantee panacea to all problems of humanity.

In fact, the modern nation is a compromise. Constitutional democracy aided by parliamentary government based in universal adult franchise, that separates state from every dogma including religion, which allows for representation of group identities, but at the same time imposes laws that are common to all humans without any regard to their identity, allowing for an individual to aspire while achieving social justice, is actually a system of compromise that we have come to after eons of experimentation.

The strength of this system lies in its readiness to admit that it can make mistakes, willing to reform and correct itself that is constantly evolving and changing. It is an attempt to create a system that strives to guarantee freedoms and rights to all people allowing them to practice their faith, whatever it is, as long as it is personal.

There is no utopia. There is no perfect state. At best there is a compromise state where every individual is now considered equal and the government is formed of people, for the people, and by the people.


  1. Well thought out and lucidly written.

  2. Excellent Post. Very well written.

    I think, the difference between an ideologue and pragmatist is that ideologues believe in utopias, they believe in absolutes where life and ideas are perfect. The consequences are ignored as long as that idea of perfection is upheld and their ideas are implemented without question.

    Whereas pragmatists measure relatives. They often believe in pratical aspects or consequences of implementing an idea. The goal is to make it better than it already is rather than perfect, and the consequences of walking along that path are also taken into account.

  3. "The strength of this system lies in its readiness to admit that it can make mistakes, willing to reform and correct itself that is constantly evolving and changing."

    I guess Congress's apology to the Sikhs for 1984 pogrom would qualify under "the readiness of the system to admit its mistakes".


  4. //to make this imperfect world less imperfect.//

    do the 'less imperfect' world falls under Utopia?

  5. The strength of this system lies in its readiness to admit that it can make mistakes, willing to reform and correct itself that is constantly evolving and changing. It is an attempt to create a system that strives to guarantee freedoms and rights to all people allowing them to practice their faith, whatever it is, as long as it is personal.Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

    I am not sure if the person above (chirkut) got the message :-S ...This is not a political statement as I see. The "system" is not a political party!

  6. cxzaq123,

    Maybe if you think a bit more and engage your grey cells instead of feeling puffed up about your perceived put-down of me, you will get it? Just a thought for you to consider.

    That was just an illustration - I could give countless examples of the democratic state, similar to the example I gave, which show that the system is anything but ready to admit its mistake. I'll assume you are knowledgeable enough about the actions of the states in different countries that I won't have to give more examples.


  7. So, Sujai, the differences between your [what-is]->[what-should-be] and that of an ideologue are:
    a. one of degree (yours is incremental, the ideologue's is a series of incrementals carried to their logical end).
    b. conviction (ideologue has more of it, in fact tons of it and in many cases, is willing to die for it).

    Though what's common in both cases is an inability to accept the present and "what-is", and trying to change it to some version of "what-should-be".
    Is that correct?

  8. "Oh what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practice to deceive.
    - Sir Walter Scott

  9. Sujai

    This is so well written, that I could feel a surge of spirits in me as I read this. This almost sounded like a 'Last Sermon' or something like that. I loved it.
    Keep writing.

    You know the saying - "I'd prefer uncertainty over the certainty of the Talib"

    ~ Vinod

  10. This Chirkut keeps making all the wrong interpretations and incongrous examples.Looks like to draw attention.However people like them are welcome that is the beauty of modern democracy.

  11. I would like to know your opinion about srilanka war and india's current role on it. Could you write on this please?

  12. "Instead of reforming their own religion to come to terms with changing times, they try to restore the times of Prophet. They rely on resurrection instead of reformation."

    Sujai, one cannot reform something that is considered to be perfect and the word of god.

  13. Sujai

    I think there are also non-religious utopias that are constructed. For eg - in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Europe and America keenly pursued race-based science and eugenics to form a society where only the "supreme race" - the white race - would survive. Many were sterilized in pursuit of this vision. Repositories of racial measurements were created and lineages were tracked so that only chosen ones may be selected to continue. These were times when social darwinism was the mainstay of intellectual thought. Ofcourse, all such efforts came to an end in due course of time. But such enterprises of creating utopias are based on science. Any thoughts about them?

    ~ Vinod


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