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Destiny’s Doctrine

(Illustration: Saurabh Singh,Open)

THE PAST IS A courtroom without walls, its simultaneous trials a contentious cacophony, every judge sifting evidence through the sieve of self-interest, every jury a sectarian populace driven by rage or outrage. Wars born in perceived injustice reinvent themselves with fierce consistency. If history is guilty, how many generations must be sentenced to death?

For too long and for too many, peace has been an uneasy twilight between wars. Civilians feed on false hope while those in charge of the narrative build arsenals for the next battle. In the origin lands of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, peace is being erased from the dictionary of human behaviour, at both the collective and the individual level. The self is not at peace with itself, while crowds roam in perennial pursuit of assertion or vengeance, the difference often indistinguishable. The time-bridge between spasms of brutal conflict is a squalid, fetid calm waiting to spew its toxins.

I am circling around the subject, since blame is a chameleon. Each time you blink, blame changes colour. The not-so-human being has learnt but one thing since Cain killed his brother Abel, that life survives death. Murder is an episode, rather than a finality. According to Genesis, the creation chapter in the Bible, God banished Cain but did not abandon him; he was sent to the land of Nod, east of Eden, instead of the gallows, with divine protection. God promised “vengeance seven times over” upon anyone who killed Cain. The mark of Cain did not signify guilt; it was a device to protect Cain from being killed. This was God’s justice. Murder became a memory.

Human nature, liberated from accountability by the protective armour of a higher cause, slipped into perpetual war. The more religious the conflict, the more bitter the bloodshed. With the promise of heaven we let loose hell on earth. The desert, the sea, the home and hearth, are red again in the land of Abraham. Antagonists remain hostage to the dreams and defeats of forefathers. Destiny’s doctrine is scrawled in blood upon tombstones.

This round of the conflict in West Asia began during World War I, through the machinations of European imperialism, led by Britain and France. After an acrid century, one feels helpless as television screens fill with the pain of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost those they loved. Anguish is neither justice nor solace, but that is all that remains in the ashes of unending tragedy.

I have seen the Nazi concentration camps created by barbarians for the complete elimination of Jews at Auschwitz and still break down at the memory: did those Nazis go to church? If any did, they must have also planned a final solution for the thesis of a merciful God.

There can be no equivalence, and those who suggest it are ignorant or warped. But generations of Palestinians festering in limbo is not sustainable. No one, including Arab governments, even suggests an answer. The visible is septic, the invisible inflammatory. War is the lava of a bubbling volcano. Salauddin Ayyubi, more familiar as Saladin, a hero of refugee camps, never fought Jews; his enemy was the triumphant Christian Crusader. But Saladin spoke an eternal truth when he warned that blood does not sleep.

Blood has risen again. As have questions. Hamas began this war, using foot soldiers against military targets and terrorism against Israeli civilians. It paraded corpses to provoke outrage and foment a wider conflagration. But does it have any objective beyond widening the arc of destruction?

Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, responsible for the worst intelligence failure in Israel’s history, promised vengeance, siege and starvation of Gaza in retaliation. By the morning of October 10, Tel Aviv announced that 1,500 Hamas militants had been killed. The figures are incomplete. The Law of Moses, an eye for an eye, demands precision. Blood sates blood.

It is significant that Arab states have not supported Hamas. They want some return of status quo, although this war has probably changed the status beyond recall. But Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Doha, and Tel Aviv must cooperate if only to stop the vultures wheeling across the darkening skies.


It’s a thought: Have Marxism and capitalism joined forces to weaken the idea of God? Ideological cynicism dismantled religion in the Soviet Union and China. The process was more subtle in capitalist Europe. A “most wide-ranging poll carried out among frontline Anglican clergy” published on August 30 this year in The Times, London concluded that Britain is no longer a Christian country by a margin of 64 per cent to 9 per cent. This was the verdict of priests, not atheists. The sample size was 1,200 serving clergy. Only 1 per cent of England now goes to church, according to figures collated in 2020.

British identity was once defined by God, King and country.

God is limping; the royal family is tabloid fodder. How well is nationalism holding up? One thermometer of British patriotism is currently on tour in India. Norman Tebbit, a crusty minister in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, devised a ‘Tebbit test’ for British brown-blacks. Which flag were they waving from the stands during a cricket match between England and India, Pakistan or the West Indies? To his surprise he soon found out that white Britain had in the main matured; it no longer cared. It left space for parallel emotions.


Indifference works. You can see a Tebbit variation during the current cricket World Cup where matches begin with national anthems. Which English players are singing with infectious vigour, and who among them is clueless? Once more, no one cares.

Faith may be a different matter. God has saved the English King for centuries. Perhaps it is now time for the King to save God.


Loud birdsong from across the street greeted us at the door of a graceful house, a small part of which had been reserved for the local community health centre. Two visitors, a well-fed son and brooding mother, were already at the clinic. An elderly patient arrived next, picked up some papers and sat down. Then came a nun.

We waited in a small ante room, but not for long. A young doctor hurried in; she gave up to 90 minutes of her time each working day to community service. The rules were impartial. First come, first served. We were summoned after perhaps 10 minutes.

Nothing dramatic, doctor, but yes painful: a throat cursed by some bug in Delhi more than a fortnight earlier, a terrible cough accentuated by neglect during travel; I was paying an unforeseen price for stupidity. She scanned my blood test report;

checked a forefinger with some gadget, touched the back with a stethoscope, and off we were to the prescription. Brisk. Antibiotics. Change in cough syrup. Medicine for a minor problem on the menu of potential concerns. Compulsory: One further test at such-and-such hospital. Details to be sent on WhatsApp or email. Thank you, ma’am, and delighted to know from displayed certificates that you studied in Auckland, a charming city blessed with glorious rainbows.

The fee? A standard ₹200. This classless basic health service, a pride of Goa, should be the envy of Auckland.


The line from a newspaper which checks its facts appeared like an illuminating streamer: “Steve Jobs refused to allow his children access to iPhones and iPads.” Think about the implications. The high priests of the Church of Tech Omnipotence are hiding something blasphemous in their secret archives. Maybe an author like Dan Brown should write a new book: The Da Apple Code.

(MJ Akbar is the author of several books, including Doolally Sahib and the Black Zamindar: Racism and Revenge in the British Raj. This article first appeared in the Open magazine and has been republished with permission.)