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Recent decades have seen the rise of violence related to Hindu nationalist movements in India, the Muslim Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the militant Khalistan movement of Sikhs in India’s Punjab, and Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the region. These movements have competed in the context of a secular political order that was the legacy of British colonial rule, once embraced by founding leaders such as Pakistan’s Muhammad Ali Jinnah and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, who advocated the nationalism of ‘secularism and socialism’. Though each of these political ideologies has its own history and internal dynamics, each is also related to the others. They have arisen as mutual responses to one another and to the global influences of colonialism, transnational religion, and globalization that have buffeted South Asian politics in recent years.
In Western Europe at the turn of the twenty-first century, a new wave of anti-immigrant xenophobia has provided evidence of an edgy political and cultural response to the uncertainties of a post-Cold War world. This religious rebellion in the most modern of Western societies is one of the more puzzling features of the modern era. It is readily understandable that politicised religion could emerge at this moment of history in other parts of the world – Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, for examples. In these cases religious nationalism is a lingering response to colonialism, and traditional culture becomes a resource for a revived sense of national identity. What is less obvious is the way in which the same process has been part of the post-Cold War search for identity in the more developed parts of the world, including those societies that were dominant in the colonial era. In Europe, the United States, and elsewhere in the developed world, religious activism primarily associated with Christianity has surfaced with a vengeance at the same time that anti-colonial Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim religious movements have been active elsewhere. In all of these cases, however, the reasons may have been similar. These may be instances of a global response to political uncertainty, in which religion has provided a way of thinking about public virtue, collective identity and world order in the face of a social reality that seems to be losing its moorings in a post-Cold War world.
During the Cold War, America's prime enemy was the vast Soviet empire. Ten years after the fall of that empire, America's most wanted enemy was a single person – Osama bin Laden – a man without a state. Shunned by his native Saudi Arabia, bin Laden encamped in various places, most often in Afghanistan, where even the Taliban have found him to be a difficult guest. But he did not represent them or any other state, not even a rogue regime.
Bin Laden is not, however, a complete anomaly. He symbolizes a variety of movements of religious activism that despise the symbols of secular power in a global age, and he is a significant authority figure within a transnational network that encompasses a certain segment of these disgruntled activists. In America's anguish after the savage aerial assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, a critical question was how to retaliate: who or what should be attacked? Clearly bin Laden was implicated, as he was in the previous assault on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the bombing of American embassies in Africa in 1998, but an appropriate response to these attacks was the subject of a great deal of debate both within and outside American diplomatic circles. In attempting to defeat bin Laden, no one in the US administration was under the illusion that they could defeat terrorism everywhere, nor banish all of bin Laden's own brand of Islamic extremism.
The film Gandhi is one of several events that have recently brought Gandhi's ideas to public attention in India and the West. In this review of the field of Gandhian studies, the author looks at the literature that probes beneath the popular images of the man. The author identifies some of the landmark works in the field and assesses recent publications. He finds that in India, especially, the emphasis is on the application of Gandhian ideas to movements for social and economic change.