A few important things were noted by the social media in the past few days. The Daily Show’s host Jon Stewart spoke his mind about America’s response to the mass shooting in a South Carolina church. The birth anniversary of slain Pakistani activist Sabeen Mahmood was observed with a Qawali recital at T2F, the creative space she had founded in Karachi. And Laura Shortridge, a writer from Cape Town talked about how Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white man, responsible for Charlestown’s killings was infact every man who at some level wants to nurture a sense of persecution and then react in a righteously violent way.
Be it the unarmed believers in the Charlestown church who were gunned down or Sabeen who took five bullets for advocating love on Valentine’s Day and free speech among other unpardonable crimes in a society deeply enmeshed in patriarchy or Shortridge who is routinely threatened on Twitter for her radical views, the irony is that none of these people were at any point, a threat to society.
The nine people gunned down by Roof were productive, church going citizens. Sabeen was loved and respected for her liberalism and all Shortridge has, are words to counter racism and yet somehow she and Sabeen are considered dangerous by a subterranean, uncivil society. In India, the murder of journalists and free-thinkers is routine Recently, Jagendra Singh, a social-media journalist from Uttar Pradesh was set on fire for a Facebook post against a local politician. He passed away and now his death is being explained away as a suicide. Sandeep Kothari, a 40-year-old Madhya Pradesh journalist too was burnt alive for going after the sand mafia.
Violence or threats of violence are rooted in fear, in the idea that somehow the axis of the earth will tilt if power stemming from money, race, gender equations, the colour of your skin is somehow diluted by a counterpoint.
Be it genocides or hate crimes, they all stem from the desire to impose one world-view over another. They stem from a sense of persecution and a need to show ‘them’ their place because if ‘they’ are allowed to thrive, ‘they’ will take over the power that defines ‘us,’ the idea of what ‘our’ country and culture and the Gods we worship and the colour of our skim and our gender stand for. As Stewart said in his show, “I have nothing other than just sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other, and at a gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn’t exist. I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jackshit. Yeah. That’s us.”
This could be an indictment of the entire human race and the majority and minority politics we play with each other.
The important thing, as Stewart said, is to acknowledge violence for what it is without looking for a sub-text to justify it, He said, “This one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.”
He also pointed out that the racist shooter grew up amid the “racial wallpaper” of South Carolina, where a confederate flag continues to be flown within the grounds of the Capitol: “And the roads are named after confederate generals. And the white guy’s the one who feels like his country’s being taken away from him!”
Change the context and look around you. You can tell a lot about people in power, about governments, about ordinary individuals from the things and ideas they feel threatened by. See how social media sites are used to pile hate on anyone who has an unpopular opinion about something as meaningless as a Yo Yo Honey Singh song or a sexist joke in Comedy Nights with Kapil.
Hate steeped comments like, “how dare you question what the majority loves?” is rampant and symptomatic of the intolerance we have for anything that is unfamiliar.
Mississippi Burning, a 1988 American film directed by Alan Parker has an eerie scene of killings at a church (the film is set in 1964) and we see the smug arrogance of regular white citizens who say just how they must claim their supremacy back from the blacks. Nothing much has changed in the world, has it?
Post the Charleston massacre, Laura Shortridge wrote in women24.com, “As I look at the picture of Dylann Storm Roof, I realise something horrible. I can’t help but feel like I’ve met this guy before. Dylann is the young man who is being charged for opening fire in a Church and murdering nine people who were attending Bible study. One of them was an 87 -year-old woman.”
“He murdered them because they were black. Dylann Roof was convinced that black people are a threat to white people.. This isn’t some lone madman. I know this guy. Maybe not this particular guy, but I’ve met enough people who seem to share his exact world view, (and have seen enough people defend him and scramble to find excuses for him since the shooting happened) to feel genuinely alarmed. They say a lie can run around the world before the truth has had got its boots on. To some, the Internet is a game of ‘Choose your own reality.’ I can’t claim to understand why anyone would choose the most hateful things to believe. Why they would choose to believe that they need to, for the good of the world, or America, or white people, or who knows what, murder defenceless people.”
And that is what it is all about. Choice. And the idea of where and with whom we stand in the virtual and the real world. Because, if we don’t stand up for the journalists who were set on fire, with heroes like Sabeen, with the victims of Charlestown or with anyone who wants to stand up for something, the violence we look away from will find us too when we are alone and unarmed.