Collective Narcissism and Sectarianism in Contemporary Kashmir

Mohd Ishaq Shah ✉

In the context of collective narcissism, individuals tend to amplify the positive image and importance of their own group, often prioritizing and elevating their group's identity above others in the community. This dynamic is vividly playing out in Kashmir, where different religious sects are locked in a struggle for supremacy, each fervently asserting its significance to the point of diminishing the value of other groups within the region.

Representative picture

Jonathan Swift, a prominent 17th-century Irish author and renowned satirist, is celebrated for his impactful literary works like Gulliver's Travels, Tale of a Tub, Battle of the Books, and A Modest Proposal. In Gulliver's Travels, Swift masterfully employs satire to critique various aspects of human nature and society. One clear example is in the land of Lilliput, where the inhabitants engage in absurd conflicts over trivial matters of religious and social importance, showcasing Swift's skill in satirizing the follies and shortcomings of humanity.

In social psychology, collective narcissism is the tendency to exaggerate the positive image and importance of a group to which one belongs. The group may be defined by ideology, race, political beliefs/stance, religion, sexual orientation, social class, language, nationality, employment status, education level, cultural values, or any other ingroup. While the classic definition of narcissism focuses on the individual, collective narcissism extends this concept to similar excessively high opinions of a person's social group and suggests that a group can function as a narcissistic entity.

Collective narcissism is related to ethnocentrism. While ethnocentrism is an assertion of the in-group's supremacy, collective narcissism is a self-defensive tendency to invest unfulfilled self-entitlement into a belief in an in-group's uniqueness and greatness. Thus, the in group is expected to become a vehicle of actualization of frustrated self-entitlement.In addition, ethnocentrism primarily focuses on self-contentedness at an ethnic or cultural level, while collective narcissism is extended to any type of in-group.

In Sigmund Freud's 1922 study Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, he noted how every little canton looks down upon the others with contempt,[4] as an instance of what would later be termed Freud's theory of collective narcissism. Wilhelm Reich and Isaiah Berlin explored what the latter called the rise of modern national narcissism: the self-adoration of peoples."Group narcissism" is described in a 1973 book entitled The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness by psychologist Erich Fromm. In the 1990s, Pierre Bourdieu wrote of a sort of collective narcissism affecting intellectual groups, inclining them to turn a complacent gaze on themselves. 

Noting how people's desire to see their own groups as better than other groups can lead to intergroup bias, Henri Tajfel approached the same phenomena in the seventies and eighties, to create social identity theory, which argues that people's motivation to obtain positive self-esteem from their group memberships is one driving-force behind in-group biasThe term "collective narcissism" was highlighted anew by researcher Agnieszka Golec de Zavala who created the Collective Narcissism Scale and developed research on intergroup and political consequences of collective narcissism. People who score high on the Collective Narcissists Scale agree that their group's importance and worth are not sufficiently recognised by others and that their group deserves special treatment. They insist that their group must obtain special recognition and respect.

The Scale was modelled on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. However, collective and individual narcissism are modestly correlated. Only collective narcissism predicts intergroup behaviours and attitudes. Collective narcissism is related to vulnerable narcissism (individual narcissism manifesting as distrustful and neurotic interpersonal style), grandiose narcissism (individual narcissism manifesting as exceedingly self-aggrandizing interpersonal style) and low self-esteem. This is in line with the theorizing of Theodore Adorno who proposed that collective narcissism motivated support for Nazi politics in Germany and was a response to an undermined sense of self-worth

During his first voyage, Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself a prisoner of a race of tiny people less than 6 inches (15 cm) tall, much like little people in mythology, who are inhabitants of the island country of Lilliput. After giving assurances of his good behaviour, he is given a residence in Lilliput and becomes a favourite of the Lilliput Royal Court. He is also given permission by the King of Lilliput to go around the city on the condition that he must not hurt their subjects.

At first, the Lilliputians are hospitable to Gulliver, but they are also wary of the threat that his size poses to them. The Lilliputians reveal themselves to be a people who put great emphasis on trivial matters. For example, which end of an egg a person cracks becomes the basis of a deep political rift within that nation. They are a people who revel in displays of authority and performances of power. Gulliver assists the Lilliputians to subdue their neighbour the Blefuscudians by stealing their fleet. However, he refuses to reduce the island nation of Blefuscu to a province of Lilliput, displeasing the King and the royal court.

Gulliver is charged with treason for, among other crimes, urinating in the capital though he was putting out a fire. He is convicted and sentenced to be blinded. With the assistance of a kind friend, "a considerable person at court", he escapes to Blefuscu. Here, he spots and retrieves an abandoned boat and sails out to be rescued by a passing ship, which safely takes him back home with some Lilliputian animals he carries with him.

So, Kashmir at present is the victim of collective narcissism where every sect of the religion claims to be supreme and shows its tendency to such a great extent that no other group or sect has any importance. While drawing an analogy between the Land of Lilliput and the land of Kashmiri people, I came to the conclusion that this tendency has deprived the people of their reasoning and logical power to the effect that they have ceased to think rationally that the basic structure of the religion is same and the different interpretations of various concepts related to this basic structure are of secondary importance. Just like the question of the feud between the low heels and the high heels and the religious principle of breaking an egg at a convenient end as per the consciousness of the man is of core importance.

Every now and then we see the clerics from different sects claiming to be the most rational ones and so do the group of the people following them. Every second day we watch another video of some different person attacking back the former one. So, the situation has become like what Swift has titled as “ Battle of the Books”. 

The various sects such as Hanafi, Deobandhi, Ahle-Hadith, Salafi, Shaafi, Maaliki, and Huambali are essentially different superstructures built upon the foundational teachings of the Quran and the Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet PBUH). It is crucial to recognize that these distinctions, which have contributed to the phenomenon of collective narcissism, must be addressed promptly. Failure to dispel these misconceptions could potentially lead to societal divisions akin to the conflict between Lilliput and Blefuscu in Gulliver's Travels.


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