We are entering a new year with a new world order, the kind in which we vote for our prejudices and have leaders that validate them, writes Anusha Azees
The last time there was such an overt rise in nationalism, there was destruction, a genocide, a world war and an entire generation left to pick up the rubble of a destroyed civilization. 75 years on, the tables have turned. USA, Britain and maybe even France will be on the other side of history and ironically it’s Germany which is the last bastion of progressive, liberal politics.
2016 has been the year almost everyone has questioned democracy. The once radical system of people representation that ushered values of liberty, equality and fraternity is seemingly lost in the 21st century rhetoric. Leaders who spearhead change, who are better than us, who are inclusive, who put people of the nation first have increasingly been replaced by leaders ‘who are more like us’, and hence, imbibe all of our worst prejudices and nightmares.
As people, we like to believe we are better than the others, we are unique, we are special. And this cannot happen without creating a subset of people who will represent the ‘enemy’, the ‘others’. Back then, for one country this was the Jews, the homosexuals, the gypsies and other non-minorities.
These days, depending on who is in power in which country, this profile conveniently changes. The overwhelming, popular enemy are the Muslims. The 2.3 billion evil ones, with Middle-Eastern looks, bombing cities, airports, killing people in distant lands. An evil-cult of a religion – they are here to destroy Western Civilization and everything it stands for. It’s easy to believe this rhetoric and representation of who the enemy or even a Muslim is when all that is fed to you are the videos of extremists.
But, Islamophobia is real and is impacting policy decisions. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) report that Islamophobic crimes are on the increase in France, England and Wales. In Sweden crimes with an Islamophobic motive increased by 69% from 2009 to 2013. According to the FBI Hate Crimes Unit report, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States shot up 67 percent in 2015. This is the highest levels since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. According to the FBI statistics. Overall, 57 percent of the 5,850 reported incidents were motivated by race or ethnicity, while 20 percent of hate crimes were related to religious bias. There were 257 incidents of anti-Muslim bias in 2015, compared with 154 the previous year. The number is second only to the surge in hate crimes following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when 481 incidents against Muslims were reported. The Burkini ban, ban on prayer call, ban on hijabs, ban on building mosques, restrictions in property rentals and property ownership – there is a systematic denial of rights for Muslims to freedom of practicing their religion which is now trickling down to personal liberties of what women can wear. Needless to say, the 2016 statistics may reveal larger numbers. The sentiment resonates strongly when decisions regarding refugees from Syria and Iraq are taken into consideration. The Xenophobia and Islamophobia, in combination act as deterrents and even human right violations aren’t strong enough reasons to create empathy for refugees fleeing the war-torn region.
It’s the equivalent of taking decisions and introducing legislative impacting all white Christian based on the Ku Klux Klan or closer home, for judging all Hindus based on what the RSS says.
Women become ‘others’ as well. While laws in different countries are yet to even grant women basic rights on one hand. Here’s a list of laws in different countries for reference that show that, after a century of fighting for rights to vote and rights to take decisions regarding their own bodies, we are now witnessing a systematic taking away of those rights as well. From equal pay for equal work, to property rights, to rights to our own bodies, to sexual abuse – women are still fighting to gain representation, education and in most cases, basic human rights. Where such rights exist, we are seeing amendments in law and order, defunding of programs or as I would like to call it, adding more and more terms and conditions to what was to be equal rights. If the argument around Roe Vs Wade in the US on anti-abortion is a talking point, in India we are still fighting to put rapists behind bars and trying to get the legal system to acknowledge violence against women. Fighting everyday sexism, misogyny and patronizing patriarchy has become more difficult when the lawmakers, policy-makers and decision-makers are all overwhelmingly men. Insert all your buts, feminism denials and examples of exceptions here. It will still not compensate for the mass violation of rights and the humiliation that women all over the world suffer.
Racism is becoming obvious now too. Black Lives Matter rose out of the decades of systematic violence that came with the aftermath of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t end racism, it only made it go underground. When we elect people who say things we can’t say, we validate that thought and idea. We validate that it is right and it is ok to discriminate on the basis of colour. As Indians, we are the first to jump the gun and call out racism when we experience it abroad. The amount of media coverage on Shahrukh Khan being stopped and searched in the US was enough to make all our blood boil. How dare they do this to our superstar, right? The righteousness of our superior selves when we practice systematic racism on an everyday basis. Pick up the classifieds section of a newspaper and you see the caste system flourishing. Look around, and you see bias and prejudice – from people coming from the North-East, to those coming from the villages, to anyone who does not fit your ‘idea’ of being an Indian. Or rather a privileged upper-class Indian male. And globally, that would be a white male.
We have also not been just to the LGBTQ community, to the adivasis, to the lower caste and to what could be quite an exhaustive list of people across geographies, communities across the world. They are but a mere silent, suffering majority of people who lack representation amongst the powerful decision-makers.
What we need is informed democracy. Not a democracy that plays into populism. It’s the pandering to populism that is turning the process into such a circus. Democracy is now letting us vote for our prejudices. We hate Muslims we have never met – Vote for the candidate who hates Muslims too. We hate immigrants. They have taken away our jobs. Vote for the immigration-hating candidate.
Think about this, next year our UN Security Council leaders will look something like this—Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Xi Jinping and maybe Marine LaPen. Whatever your beliefs may be, to imagine the world is at the mercy of nuclear powers led by leaders who do not believe in inclusive growth, climate change, non-violence, co-operation or even basic human rights is a very scary thought.