See if this sounds familiar: Several thousand years ago a man who would become a god was born on a land that would become holy, because of him.
Several thousand years later, people are still dying because of disputes surrounding this god's birthplace.
It's not what you think. It's about India and how thousands of years ago a Hindu god is believed to have been born in a place where, thousands of years later a Muslim king is known to have built a mosque, which in 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed.
Today, in a judgment which can be defined as a political compromise to prevent further violence, an Indian high court ruled that both Hindus and Muslims must share this land. Of the 3 judges -- one Muslim and two Hindus -- two judges (the Muslim one and one Hindu one) ruled to share the land.
As the verdict was being announced, two hundred thousand troops were on hand in the Northern Indian city of Ayodhya to, for a moment, keep millions of Hindus and Muslims from repeating centuries of violence over the land where the Hindu god Ram is believed to have been born and the Muslim King Babar built a mosque.
That's about as few troops that a nation of over 1 billion people needs to address its religious differences -- that Achille's heel of divide-and-conquer strategy that continues to be the bane of India's existence. Literally.
The judicial verdict? That a holy site for Hindus and Muslims must be shared.
The actual verdict? That there isn't a spot of land on Earth that people won't fight for in the name of religion, whether a court tries to stop them or not.
Appeals are already in progress toward a Supreme Court hearing years from now.
But the bigger issue is whether modern-day governments have the legitimacy to enforce laws that carry faith-based implications. And the issue is legitimacy because religious people thrive on that: only he (rarely she) who is legitimate in the eyes of the religion has the authority to command.
The secular Indian government should be praised for deciding to share this land between these fundamentalists on the Hindu and Muslim sides.
But if the goal is to share the land and avoid mass violence, one wonders if there is a more effective way of uniting people. Perhaps a national center for performing arts or, for those who would prefer to battle out their frustrations, a wrestling stadium (Akhara).
There are, after all, somewhat civilized ways of interacting with one's opponents.
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