During my daily practice of scrolling through the political sections of the New York Times I have come across many heart-breaking situations. One such which caught my attention has been the worsening Rohingya situation causing anguish, pain, suffering, torture and death to hundreds of thousands who have had to flee their homes due to the genocidal behavior unleashed upon them by the military junta.
My question is that why isn’t the international community coming out in support of these poor and oppressed peoples like it should? Why are there only lower decibel murmurs from them? Could it be that because the Rohingyas belong to the Muslim community they don’t deserve our assistance? Has it ever occurred to us that the usually devout Buddhists can also morph into violent and brutal oppressors? There is no bar or limitation on any religious group and its lunatic fringe. However, do we view all Muslims to be terrorists, antinationalists (unless residing in Muslim-dominated countries), and sometimes sub-human? Is this an unconscious bias inherent amongst us which perhaps needs to be shed quickly in the 21st century?
The global Covid crisis has not helped the situation either. With movie halls being shut for the most part and the burgeoning of OTT platforms, we have seen a mushrooming of movies and series which display rather graphically the kidnap and torture of the “good” and “democratic forces” always out to “help” the rabid/violent/dirty Islamists. These misogynists “torture” and degrade their women and children on screen and have lost all humanity in their treatment of others.
What is worse is that “in the name of Allah” they are portrayed as committing the most atrocious and inhumane crimes (often slitting their captor’s throats); look dark, unshaven and foreboding and naturally cause anxiety amongst the good, clean, “Christian” majorities (normally portrayed as blonde/blue-eyed and genteel looking). This anti-Islamist thrust is more apparent in India these days with the warming up of Indo-Israeli relations which according to one commentator is “no longer just a close friendship”.
The Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is quoted as having said that “this relationship is truly a strategic partnership at the bilateral level”. However, it wasn’t such a long time ago that India shied away from these bold gestures of friendship with the Zionist state, hoping to avoid tensions with its Arab neighbors. But as a Saudi-led coalition ostracized Qatar for providing support to some Islamist groups and Iran, and only recently agreed to a resolution brokered by the US and Kuwait to end this crisis, Israel too recently signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with Bahrain, the UAE, Sudan and Morocco.
As geo-politics are evolving in the global arena, India appears to have taken a step backwards in dealing with its largest minority – the Muslim community. This past December, a large collection of major religious leaders, most adhering to right-wing and fundamentalist militants ideologies (as reported by several media houses), met at Hardwar for a ‘Dharma Sansad’ or ‘Religious Parliament’ wherein a number of participants propagated violence and the extermination of the Muslim minorities. Isn’t it strange, how in the name of Hinduism (a peace-loving way of life), these so-called ‘religious men advocated murder, genocide and pronounced hate speeches.
The police said last Friday that they had launched a hate-speech investigation into this event and yet we have not seen any palpable results from this action. What is more shocking is the tacit support by the government by its lack of any comment denouncing this hate speech. When those at the top are quiet and noncommittal, obviously this raises a red flag amongst the populace, and a green flag to the hate mongers to go ahead unimpeded with their homicidal agenda.
In response to these events, thespian Naseeruddin Shah has said that the calls for genocide could lead to a full-fledged civil war. In an interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, Shah said that Indian Muslims will fight back if steps are taken for Muslim genocide and ethnic cleansing. “We will defend our homes, our family, our children”, he added.
What is surprising is that Naseeruddin Shah never once raised the constitutionality of hate speech. Going down the legal path did not seem an appropriate response from him at all, I guess as he couldn’t wrap his mind around the lunatics propagating the annihilation of all Muslims in the country. Nor did any of the so-called legal-eagles immediately file defamation charges against these bigoted and ignorant monsters. We as a rational and democratic society need to stand up and voice our opinions on social media, on TV, radio and in the press if we feel injustices are being heaped on any community. It is our moral duty to stop these dogmatic, intolerant and narrow-minded chauvinists from taking the law into their own hands. If history has taught us anything it is that hatred is a self-defeating philosophy.
Hitler began with victimizing the Jews but this soon spread to the Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, blacks, the physically and mentally disabled, political opponents…. dissenting clergy, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, Slavic peoples etc. (Ina R. Friedman). Can we perhaps see a trend building in India too? First, we start with an antipathy towards the lower castes, then it may escalate to others who don’t look like us (peoples from the north-east), then the Dravidian southerners and soon who will be left outside this hate-filled ambit? If history teaches us anything it should be for us to learn from the past and not replicate the same mistakes; to speak up against hate speech and divisive politics or else we can hardly count ourselves any better than our colonial overlords, who perpetrated the ‘divide and rule’ policy to perfection.
(The writer has a Doctoral degree specializing in Political Economy from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Baruch College in New York, as an Adjunct Professor. She is an expert on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Social Development and a champion of women and children and was UNICEFs spokesperson globally on several subjects.)