Vanity thought #1285. Islamic varnashrama

This is what this ISIL Caliphate really is – an attempt to establish Islamic version of varṇāśrama, and not just varṇāśrama but daivī-varṇāśrama. They are not content on simply running their place by sharia law, or organizing everybody’s duties, they center their entire existence around fulfilling the will of Allah. We can, of course sneer and smirk and say that their merciless killings have nothing to do with serving God whatsoever but that’s how ISIL see it himself and, truth be told, they follow the right principles.

I first wrote about them probably half a year ago and I still think that if they weren’t so bloodthirsty they would have been praised everywhere, not just by Muslims but by all religious people around the world.

This is an important point most ISIL conversations miss completely – people do not want to put an end to ISIL, they want to put an end to their brutality, rapes, and slavery. Atheists, of course, would never accept any kind of religion based society and so ISIL would never get their approval but who cares what they think anyway.

Varṇāśrama elements in their structure are obvious but that is true for practically any society because these divisions were created by Kṛṣṇa and no one had ever been able to overcome them.

Their Caliph, for example, has to be a born and bred kṣatriya, but that is true for every society as well, even democratic ones. Blood lines are not as important in democracies, but they are not very important for caliphates either, they cannot justify having an ineffectual leader just because he was born into a right family.

The caliph is also not the supreme authority, the supreme authority in ISIL and, I guess, in every sharia based society is shura, the council of brāhmaṇas. They are the ones who set the policies and make all the important decisions, the caliph only implements them and takes all the public credit.

This could be used as a counter argument to those who do not see ISIL’s current leader as authoritative enough. He can read his statements from the paper, for all we care, he is not the one who writes them anyway, and if he oversteps his boundaries the shura would surely put him in place. It’s like Iranian presidents, I guess. They are the public face of the regime controlled by religions authorities from behind.

I don’t know what ISIL has for vaiśyas, I’ll say a few words about their economics later. I don’t know what they have for śudras but I could argue that their slaves would qualify.

There has never been slavery in India, afaik, so it seems unreasonable to compare śudras with slaves but in general their positions and duties are similar. I’m not even sure “free” śudras had significantly more rights than slaves. We mostly object to slavery for its exploitation and mistreatment of people, next wave of complaints has to do with lack of freedom of movement, but that was true about serfs in the Middle Ages, too, and things like the right to vote or freedom of speech never applied to śudras at all. Even slaves could complain, I believe, it’s just that in the west no one would listen, which brings me back to mistreatment and exploitation – our real grief with slavery.

In terms of aśramas, Islamic societies do not reinvent wheels either. There are students, there are householders, and there’s no big deal if there are no sannyāsīs because it’s Kali Yuga anyway.

People’s duties are very well established, just as it should be in varṇāśrama. Men should be doing men’s work and women should be doing women’s. This inequality between sexes is another major gripe westerners have with ISIL and Islam in general but if we tried to establish our varṇāśrama we would have come under exactly the same fire, too.

Many devotees in ISKCON want to modify traditions described in our books to better fit into the modern society but they are being firmly opposed by “conservatives”. We don’t want to trade śāstric injunctions for feminist brownies but so far we fight these battles internally.

If we tried to have varṇāśrama for real the people, media, and governments would be on us just as they are onto ISIL now. Forget the outrage over beheadings, we won’t be allowed to set up a state where women do not have the same rights as men. Arabs are getting away with this because they got their statehoods when no one cared and because they have oil.

If we managed to take over some state’s power even legitimately, through elections, we’d have American bombs falling on us out of humanitarian concerns in no time. There would always be some “coalition of the willing” to teach us how to lead our lives.

Speaking of bombings – last big outrage was about Jordanian pilot who was burned alive and video put up on the internet. There seems to be no justifications for this kind of atrocities but ISIL, surprisingly, came up with a good one. They’ve found a verse in their books that says they are free to execute the aggressor in exactly the same way he killed their people. There are other verses that say only Allah Himself can use fire as punishment but such contradictions are too common and are used mostly for the sake of arguments.

Real question is – did the pilot deserve to die? And did he deserve to die in this despicable way? In the west we stopped executing prisoners of war long time ago but ISIL does not live by modern rules, they take theirs from interpretations of Koran that were made over a thousand years ago. According to their laws, death was a just punishment.

I guess the world could have lived with that but burning him alive? In response, ISIL says that he dropped bombs which did exactly the same things to their children, so they burned him AND buried him under a pile of rubble. I’m not sure this is exactly what happened but I can understand their rationale here. They’ve also tried to negotiate, Jordan wouldn’t budge, and so blood was spilled.

It all started with executing two Japanese hostages and Jordan got involved when Japanese asked Jordanians to negotiate on their behalf but that was a serious miscalculation because, in ISIL’s eyes, Jordan has no moral standing whatsoever, they’ve sold out to “crusaders” completely.

Why did they have to execute the hostages, however? They said that Japan contributed 200 mil dollars to fighting against ISIL so they asked for the same amount in exchange for releasing hostages. This makes sense, but why punish innocent people for the actions of their governments?

This is another thing that is unacceptable to the modern men. Muslims, however, have no problem with assigning collective blame and spreading karma around to those who contributed even in the most insignificant ways. If you think about it, in democracies people elect their governments and so they SHOULD share some responsibility for how governments used this mandate. People, however, assume that election rights should carry no responsibility whatsoever.

In any case, intricacies of karma are very hard to understand and in this aspect ISIL clearly deviates from real God’s law but, otoh, if they do manage to execute innocent hostages it doesn’t mean that the law of karma was broken either.

Another aspect of this brutality is that we see only a tip of it. We react only to a handful of executions but ISIL implements them on a much large, well organized scale. First thing they do after conquering a city is to kill all those they consider irredeemable, like gays. They also crack down heavily on any kind of crime and they do not tolerate corruption. Personal integrity is considered a great virtue for ISIL leadership and they make sure they are seen as absolutely clean in this regard.

So, they run a quick shock and awe campaign to demonstrate that they are fully in charge but after that they hand over city management to the same officials who were doing it before. They try to reduce interruptions to a minimum so that ordinary folks have nothing to complain and all in all it’s seen as business as usual.

We are shocked by the brutality, true, but others say that by Middle Eastern standards ISIL are not much worse than anybody else. They do seem to enjoy the support of the general population, after they purged or converted all dissenters. It seems it’s not only the ISIL that is medieval there, the entire regions looks uncivilized.

What else? Oh, like the Taleban, ISIL bans all music and mundane entertainment. We, if we tried varṇāśrama, would have done the same, too, but at least we have kīrtanas. Being Muslims, ISIL also bans any kind of personal imagery. If Allah cannot be drawn then depicting ordinary people should not be done, too. Even faceless manikins should follow the rules – no nudity. Again – we would have done the same.

In short – it’s easy to blame ISIL for many things they do wrong but if we were in their shoes we would have done a lot of offensive stuff, too. I don’t think we would use ANY kind of violence to establish varṇāśrama, the days of Paraśurāma are long gone, but the west would find plenty of reasons to outlaw us all the same, and in that sense we can learn a lot from ISIL experience. We just need to look beyond blood and gore and concentrate on underlying momentum and reactions to it.

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