A senior friend from college who is now staying in Australia narrated a story a couple of days back that evoked a fiery quest in me that refuses to die. She is a visibly Muslim woman who wears the headscarf. That day as she was commuting on Sydney trains after work, a middle-aged man sat behind her and started saying Jesus’ name aloud and she in her heart said, “Peace be upon him” (this is how Muslims address the Prophets) until his chanting became uncomfortable. As she ignored him and spoke to her father back home she realized that he was mimicking her. She hung up the call and ignored him which was followed by him hurling the choicest of abuses at her like, “You are a terrorist”, “Bloody Muslim”, etc. The rest, she said, she couldn’t reproduce.
As much as stories like this one reflect the sheer sense of “individualism” in the onlookers on whose watch people are harassed without them batting an eyelid, they also seem to spit right in the faces of those minorities that are “the other” to make them realize that they do not matter. If this was not bizarre enough, there are also people out there, well-exposed and fairly well-read included, that completely write off such incidents as “media creation,” “artificial hype”, etc. Their answer to the ongoing insanity is: log out and take a deep breath. In this age of information which hit a new low in 2016, with Brexit and Donald Trump rising to power in the United States of America which was preceded by the rise of far-right in other nation-states such as India itself; that has also been termed by the Oxford Dictionary as “post-truth”, the clear lines of distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed, victim and the perpetrator, ruler and the subject, seem to have blurred. In this context, how does one understand the rise of right-wing parties across nations? Where exactly did those cracks lie in the previous parties’ rule that led the intellectually paralyzed ones to take over the reins of nation-states? Frustration arising out of the fear of losing one’s identity coupled with deep-seated anger; was a potent mix in this rather recurring pattern of right-wingers taking over. Religion, amidst all this, plays the role that it is least supposed to do: capitalizing on public fear. Karamatullah K. Ghauri in his article “Fascism Knocking at America’s Door” published in a fortnightly The Milli Gazette in its issue of 1-15 December, 2016, writes: “Trump’s candidacy had started as nothing more than a joke. A reality television man who also happened to be a billionaire showman with a highly tainted reputation seemed to be looking for a good time on the political stage before bowing out with a hurrah. The news media laughed at, and ridiculed, him for yet another of his cheap publicity stunts… But looking back with the benefit of hindsight, the reality television buffoon wasn’t playing pranks but, in actual fact, playing on the sensitive chords of a racist America.” Speaking of the role of racism and religious bigotry, he writes: “But racism and religious bigotry may be surprise news only to those with little or no knowledge of the people, the so-called pioneers, who had initially settled the New World. Those who came from Europe in the 17th century to settle in the new land, claimed it in the name of God. The slogan was that it had been given to them to build a ‘New Jerusalem’ a ‘shining city on the hill’ that would be the beginning of a new era of Christian domination. So inspired by their dogmatic religious beliefs were those early settlers that they did not call themselves immigrants or settlers but “pilgrims.” Endowed with their God-given sanction, the ‘pilgrims’ slaughtered the native Americans, the so-called Red Indians, with a ferocity that could only be described as bestiality and utter savagery. Millions of the natives were decimated with impunity because the Christian clergy gave a blank cheque for that slaughter. The church justified the blood-letting in the name of purging the God-gifted land of the uncivilized ‘heathens.'” We see how religion is used as a tool to perpetuate atrocities and annihilate a class of humans that are seen as sub-humans by the fellow humans themselves. It is both interesting and shocking, in a single breath, to realize how the role of religion has been tampered with by people that rely solely on their base instincts. Samuel P. Huntington in his book “The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of the World Order” writes: “In the late 1980s the communist world collapsed, and the Cold War international system became history. In the post-Cold War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. Peoples and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we? And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean most to them. People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations. People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against.”
This sense of the ‘other’ and finding ways to justify the crudeness of this creed by putting up the façade of ‘protectionism’ is being perpetuated and instilled in our psyches for more chaos, more cries, more loss of life and limb and more money and political mileage. This is not the World we want. Not on our watch.