In The End of Imagination, Arundhati Roy describes with exquisite pacing what nationalism, fundamentalism, and militarism have yielded across India and Pakistan over the last thirty years.
As she recounts the mayhem (including murder, staged terrorism, and activist intimidation in the countryside and on college campuses), Roy also writes of alternatives:
An altogether different coalition of castes, one that is constituted from the ground up, instead of organized and administered from the top down: Dalit-Bahujanism instead of Brahminism. A powerful movement, contemporary and yet rooted in India’s unique social cultural context… A movement that challenges patriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism, that dreams of a casteless, classless society, whose poets would be the poets of the people… A movement whose comrades would include those from the privileged castes who no longer want to claim their privileges. A movement spiritually generous enough to embrace all those who believe in justice, whatever their creed or religion.” —Arundhati Roy, “My Seditious Heart”
A vision like this threatens all forms of domination. Advocates know it; that’s why they believe so strongly in it. And autocrats know it, which is why they’ll spare no strategy to stamp it out and isolate its proponents.
“What do you do with an idea that has begun to drift around like smoke?” Roy asks. “You try and snuff it out at its source.”
All too often in global politics, “snuffing out” the sources of ideas literally means arresting or assassinating people. That’s one of the themes of Easter! But assassination isn’t the only way to attack a threatening vision.
An idea is vulnerable to misinterpretation and misapplication because it can’t defend or represent itself. People generate ideas, and people have to re-articulate and share them.
So an idea’s ability to survive over time depends not just on its own merits but also on people being willing to reframe and translate it for new communities and communities being willing to receive and integrate concepts that either seem foreign or actually are.
Ideas will wither if a regime puts enough effort into surrounding it with hostility or chasing it with violence.
The latter is what Roy argues Indian nationalists have done to those they deem “anti-national,” and she asks a series of questions that are just as intriguing for religious contexts as they are for political ones:
What if some of us dream instead [of compelled state membership] of creating a society to which people long to belong? What if some of us dream of living in a society that people… are not forced to be part? What if some of us don’t have colonialist, imperialist dreams? What if some of us dream instead of justice? Is it a criminal offense?”
In exclusive societies and subcultures, it can certainly feel like a crime. But what if we keep dreaming anyway?