OPINION: Ideology of hate

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) -  It’s up to the Hindu middle class to rescue the soul of India from the clutches of hate mongers.

My editor at The Kathmandu Post chose a brilliant title—Pathogen of Prejudice—for my previous column about the coronavirus outbreak that emerged from Wuhan and has now spread across the world. My point in the piece was that this global health crisis must not become a source of national prejudice between/among waning, existing and emerging world powers against vulnerable citizens. The health crisis that emerged in one place in China and has now spread like wildfire the world over is caused by a medical pathogen called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

A quick googling can tell you how many people have been infected by the virus and where on the world map—and how many have died. While China is emerging out of the lockdown, Italy has begun its own lockdown. Many other countries, including the United States, have taken or are in the process of taking drastic measures (shutting down schools, universities and large gatherings), besides issuing elaborate instructions for washing hands and self-quarantining in case of exposure.

Deserted international airport

Yesterday, when phone calls didn’t go through, I went to the international airport in the city to know if a certain Middle Eastern airline was still flying passengers to Kathmandu. The check-in counter at the otherwise crowded space looked deserted, and the agent said the plane was going but it was virtually empty. The manager told me to call again on the day of the flight to know if the aircraft would go that day because the situation was changing every day. Today, I went to a local wholesale store to buy alcohol (to clean, not to drink), hand washing gel, water bottles and cup noodles but couldn’t get any. A social psychologist colleague of mine from the university most likely has a common cold, but she has isolated herself just in case. In her blog, she mentions the civic duty of a citizen to do the right thing in this crisis.

So, as we see, when it comes to health and medical epidemic, the world swings into action to prevent infection, treat the infected and protect the public from the risk of exposure. And those who are slow to react, the world and the people take them to task for inefficiency, cover-up or ignorance or something. But the world doesn’t do much or not enough to prevent the spread of racial, ethnic or religious prejudice that spreads like a pathogen in the form of hate ideology to poison the hearts and minds of the vulnerable, resulting in riots, pogroms and persecutions. In the name of realpolitik, the world at best ignores or tolerates bias, and when the situation becomes dire, offers some lip service. Only in rare cases does the world swing into action to prevent the spread of hate ideology, take pre-emptive measures to prevent violence, and swiftly punish the perpetrators of violence when riots, pogroms or ethnic cleansing occur.

A case in point is the recent Delhi riots. The Hindu hate ideology has been spreading for decades in India, at least since the destruction of the Babri Mosque in December 1992. Several riots have occurred since then, the 2002 Gujarat and the recent (February 23 to March 1, 2020) Delhi riots being the most prominent ones. If one listens to the campaign speeches of many of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including its most belligerent leader Amit Shah, one can immediately detect the traces of Hindu hatred toward Muslims in the name of Hindus’ historical persecution by Muslim rulers from the 12th to the mid-18th centuries. Yet, because this hatred of the majority community against a minority community has mobilised the voters to vote the haters into power, the hate has received the legitimacy of adult franchise, the sacred cow of holy democracy.

But this pathogen of hatred and prejudice is hardly the monopoly of the Hindu nationalists of India. If one looks at the Sunni Muslim extremists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries, and Shias in Iran toward their minority fellow Muslims of different denominations or the Buddhist nationalists of Sri Lanka and Myanmar, one finds a similar paradigm of hate ideology spreading toward the perceived other within the nation-state, where the nation is ideologically conceived as only those of the majority.

Yet, such religious or ethnic prejudices spread from one person to another either through contact or through mass and social media, and enter vulnerable people’s minds and hearts and poison them. Schools, universities or the dining tables and family rooms of the enlightened and the moderate can work as vaccine or antidote to such ideological contamination, but the schools and universities in these places become vehicles instead to spread these harmful ideologies rather than preventers as the result of a faulty curriculum, defective method of executing the curriculum and incompetent instructors. Consequently, mass and social media become easy vehicles of opportunist politicians who manipulate everything to get elected. Hateful ideology turns into their electoral mandate, and such things as the Delhi riots of 2020 that leave death and destruction in their wake become routine and even banal phenomena. As happened in the recent Delhi riots, the police, and most importantly the political leadership, watched in real or pretended confusion, while mayhem continued.

Treason of the middle class

In these cases, the moderate and the enlightened have raised a hue and cry, but failed to either interpret the history of their country in a convincing way to advance their liberal, moderate agenda and persuade the illiterate or semi-literate populace, or wallow too long in their relatively privileged lifestyle to mobilize the moderate, liberal forces to oppose the hate ideology they find verbally so repugnant. I have called this lack of will and the gap between theory and praxis the treason of the middle class in the non-Western world. In the case of India, this Anglophone middle class hardly knows how to communicate in the idiom of the lumpen masses of illiterate, semi-literate and half-educated Indians, those, if you have watched the television footage of the Delhi riots, who become the willing and active executioners during the riots in the streets.

So, the spread of hate ideology continues unabated, and riots and mayhem are the results from time to time. The privileged, secular Muslim middle class for decades slept in their luxury while Islamic militancy took over their countries in the 1990s and the 2000s; but it’s up to this Hindu middle class to rescue the soul of India from the clutches of hate mongers and not allow India to become a Hindu Pakistan.

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