IRFAN ENGINEER | Caravan Daily
ON March 15, 2019, 50 Muslims offering their Friday prayers died and 48 injured when they were gunned down in Al Noor mosque in Christchurch and at 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. Prime Minister of New Zealand called the attack as terrorist act and condemned it strongly and unequivocally as New Zealand’s one of the darkest days.
There was a world of difference how the media reported the Christchurch mass shooting incident wherein the shooter belonged to white race and Christian faith and how such incidents are reported when person involved professes to be a Muslim. London based Daily Mirror’s front page headlines the next day were “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 headlines were outright condemning the ISIS shooter involved in Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 and causing 50 deaths. The headlines then were, “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 headlines were “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 schoolboy 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 faith and culture and offered no comments thereon.
Western media unequivocally and promptly condemns incidents of terrorism wherein Muslims are involved, as it should be. Section of dominant western media names 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 headlines while reporting the Orlando nightclub shooting incident was – “SAME SEX JIHAD”. Jihad is popularly linked with Islam.
A section of popular media equivocates when the terrorist incident is carried out by a person belonging to a white racist Christian fundamentalist and ultranationalist group describing them as madman and 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 different race, ethnicity or culture.
In the 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, 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 22nd July 2011, are not critiqued or condemned.
White supremacists, anti-immigrant ultranationalist 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 anywhere. They are products of the society that has a 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 discrimination 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 dehumanizes them. It is this covert racism that gives rise to double standards in dealing with racism or supremacism of all sorts. Covert racism calls 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 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 organizations to thrive and individuals to be filled with hatred and anger and take to violent means and terrorist acts. The ideology of “clash of civilization” by Samuel P. Huntington and Ku Klux Klan and many such violent organizations are supported by covert racism. The racist ideologies and organisations in turn nurture, deepen and spread racism. Merely condemning 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 Muslim community calling them their own and “us” while calling Tarrant and terrorists 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 community. We have overt communalism in the form of communal riots, demolition of 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 is a norm rather than exception and highest political officials and officials of ruling party freely propagate hate speeches which is punishable offence and no action is taken against them. Due to limited space here, we are not listing the hate speeches which 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 stigmatized 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 declining in 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 Muslim community are dealt with the 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 Hindu community are allowed to go scot free.
Institutionalized communalism leads to innocent Dr. Kafeel Khan being suspended and victimized for the deaths of more than 60 children in BRD Hospital in Gorakhpur only because his religion happens to be Islam. Muslims and Christians are highly underrepresented in Parliament and state legislatures, in Govt. 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 Muslim and Christian community 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 Hindu community to be an anti-national crime demanding severest of punishment.
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 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” – the 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 compassionate 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. Saint Kabir, Maulana Rumi, and Bulle Shah tell us that love is essence of all religions. We have Christianity that teaches us equality and ‘love thy neighbour’.
(Irfan Engineer is Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism; he is also co-editor of a recent book, Babri Masjid, 25 Years On… Views expressed here are personal.)