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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 17 New Delhi April 13, 2019

Overt and Covert Racism and Communalism

Saturday 13 April 2019

by Irfan Engineer

On March 15, 2019, 50 Muslims offering their Friday prayers died and 48 were injured when they were shot in the Masjid al Noor mosque in Christchurch and at the Linwood Avenue mosque in New Zealand. Brenton Tarrant, a 28- year-old son of an Australian working class family and the gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand, posted his 74-page manifesto making his reasons for the shooting clear. The Prime Minister of New Zealand called it a terrorist attack and condemned it strongly and unequivocally as one of the darkest days in New Zealand.

There was a world of difference between how the media reported the Christchurch mass shooting incident wherein the shooter belonged to the White race and Christian faith and how such incidents are reported when the person involved professes to be a Muslim. London- based Daily Mirror’s front page headline the next day was: “Angelic boy who grew into an evil far-Right mass killer”. The Daily drew attention of the reader to the innocence of the shooter in his childhood and sought their sympathies. The story further tried to evoke empathies of the reader by tracing the troublesome situation in which he was. It mentioned that the blonde little boy had a father who had cancer. The same Daily’s headline outrightly condemned the ISIS shooter involved in an Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 and causing 50 deaths. The headline then was: “ISIS MANIAC KILLS 50 IN GAY CLUB”. Compare “ISIS maniac” with “Angelic boy”. The former rightly evokes disdain, condemns and censures the killer whereas the latter evokes empathy, tells the reader something went wrong with “person of our race, culture and faith” otherwise an “angel”.

The Australian daily, Courier Mail’s front-page headline was “WORKING CLASS MADMAN” and wrote in its opening sentence: “Terrorist Brenton Tarrant became twisted by a severe addiction to wild video games as he morphed from a curly haired school boy into a mass murderer.” The story finds fault with the “wild video games” that Tarrant loved to see, once again not finding fault with his ideology or racist attitudes and hatred towards immigrants and Muslims. The daily found nothing wrong with Tarrant’s 74-page manifesto and launching a war with people of different faiths and cultures and offered no comments thereon. The Western media unequivocally and promptly condemns incidents of terrorism wherein Muslims are involved, as it should be. Sections of the dominant Western media name the religion of the terrorist willy-nilly drawing the entire community in the blame-game. They link Islam with terrorism in such incidents. The Daily Telegraph’s headline, while reporting the Orlando nightclub shooting incident, was: “SAME SEX JIHAD”. Jihad is popularly linked with Islam.

A section of the popular media equivocates when the terrorist incident is carried out by a person belonging to a White racist Christian fundamentalist and ultranationalist group describing the group members as madmen and the incident a lone wolf attack. Something went wrong with the individual, they seem to say. As if there was no trace of racism in their culture and body politic and all Christians in the Northern world were most modern, had right attitudes. The fault lies with the ‘others’ —those who profess a different religion and are from a different race, ethnicity or culture. In case of terrorist attacks by politically motivated Muslim groups, the cause is located in their religion rather than in the political context. The cause of the attack is attributed to their objective of destroying, what they term as “our way of life”. However, the motive of the racist Brenton Tarrant or anti-immigrant Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who gunned down 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya on July 22, 2011, are not critiqued or condemned.

White supremacists, anti-immigrant ultra-nationalists or Christian fundamentalists are not perceived to be destroying “our way of life”, although that is a bigger threat rather than the political Islamists who carry out terrorist attacks without leaving their footprints except the ghastly toll and enable the state to acquire more authoritarian powers on the pretext of security. Tarrant and Breivik are seen as “us” rather than “them”, whose strategy to achieve their objectives may have gone a bit wrong. Deep down there is some sympathy with Tarrant and Breivik as they were trying to get their countries rid of “them”, the people who threaten “our” culture and “our way of life”. Tarrant and Breivik haven’t parachuted from nowhere. They are products of the society that has deep dislike for immigrants and people belonging to other religion, race, ethnicity, language or culture.

The covert and subtle racism which exists in a large number of people makes them believe that their race, religion, language or culture is superior and is entitled to various privileges which need to be maintained by institutional structures and force if necessary. That discrimi-nation against “others” is natural. Covert racism allows institutional structures and systems that produce inequalities in wealth, income, criminal justice system, housing, health care, political power and education among other factors. Covert racism thrives on prejudices against “others” and dehumanises them. It is this covert racism that gives rise to double standards in dealing with racism or supremacism of all sorts. Covert racism calls the ISIS terrorist as a violent maniac and Tarrant and Breivik as angelic boys with whom something went wrong. It is unwilling to question the racism within individuals when they want to know, or the media that wants to report, personal stories of angelic boys rather than the plight of survivors of their reckless attack.

Covert racism allows racist ideologies and organisations to thrive and individuals to be filled with hatred and anger and take to violent means and terrorist acts. The ideology of “clash of civilisations” by Samuel P. Huntington and Ku Klux Klan and many such violent organi-sations are supported by covert racism. The racist ideologies and organisations in turn nurture, deepen and spread racism. Merely condemning a terrorist act is not enough. Civil society and state must identify the covert racism and address it. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, is precisely addressing the covert racism within New Zealanders when she enters mosques and condoles the survivors of the terrorist attack and embraces members of the Muslim community calling them their own and “us” while calling Tarrant and terrorists of his ilk as “them”.

In the Indian situation, if we replace the word racism with communalism in the above analysis, we get the same result targeting Muslim and Christian communities. We have overt communalism in the form of communal riots, demolition of the Babri Masjid, mob lynching of Muslims transporting/owning cows alleging them to be cow slaughterers, renaming places and lanes that have Muslim-sounding names, when hate speeches are a norm rather than the exception and highest political officials and officials of the ruling party freely propagate hate speeches that are a punishable offence and no action is taken against them. Due to limited space here, we are not listing the hate speeches here; these have been dealt with in other issues of Secular Perspective.

We know there is widespread prevalence of covert communalism when people nurture prejudices against the Christian community that they indulge in mass religious conversions and their prayer meetings and churches are attacked, when Muslim community is stig-matised to be fast multiplying with the intention to become a majority community within a short span of time, that they are terrorists and all terrorists are Muslims even if all Muslims are not terrorists, that their rightful place is in Pakistan, a country to which they are loyal, etc.

Covert communalism has led to a decline in the socio-economic condition and educational status of the community as pointed out by the Sachar Committee Report, Ranganath Mishra Commission and Amitabh Kundu Committee Report. While terrorists from the Muslim community are dealt with severest punishment in law, as they should be, the terrorists of Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid bomb blasts, perpetrators of communal violence, mob lynchers of Pehlu Khan belonging to the Hindu community are allowed to go scot free. Institutionalised communalism leads to innocent Dr Kafeel Khan being suspended and victimised for the deaths of more than 60 children in the BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur only because his religion happens to be Islam. Muslims and Christians are highly underrepresented in Parliament and state legislatures, in government employment and in the private sector. In several cities housing societies refuse membership of the society to Muslims and Christians. We could go on listing the exclusion of the Muslim and Christian community members but these are just a few examples. It is the covert and subtle communalism that does not condemn communal riots, mob lynchings and attack on Christian prayer meetings and Churches; that acquiesces terrorist attacks where most victims are Muslims as in Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express while it loudly and unequivocally condemns other terrorist attacks where most victims are from the Hindu community to be an anti-national crime demanding the severest of punishments.

We however do not have anybody like Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. Mahatma Gandhi once made some of us question our covert communalism when he undertook a fast unto death when there were communal riots. Societies would not be liberated from the cycle of violence unless covert racism as well as communalism and supremacism of all hues and colours is addressed. We need to identify our own covert communalism and address it. There are enough resources in all our religions to do so. In India we believe in “vasudhaiv kutumbakkam”—entire world is my family; and “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti”—there is one truth, wise people have described it differently. Buddhism teaches us to be rational and com-passionate towards all, rather than build communities based on ideologies of superiority and supremacism. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in his Tarjuman-ul-Quran, opines that it is compulsory for Muslims to accept all religions to be true. Sant Kabir, Maulana Rumi and Bulle Shah tell us that love is the essence of all religions. We have Christianity that teaches us equality and ‘love thy neighbour’.

(Courtesy: Secular Perspective)

The author is the Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

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