The brown bigots

Published August 31, 2014
Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

The common stereotype of a racist is a fat, white man hurling abuses at ‘niggers’, ‘Pakis,’ Jews and gays. Whereas once communists too figured on the hate list of white supremacists, they have now largely been replaced with Muslims.

But Western racist organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the British National Party and various other neo-Nazi groups have become self-parodies. If one sees a parade of neo-Nazi groups today, they, with their silly looking hoods, costumes and salutes, look no more than puerile caricatures of trite racism.

Their racism has become a costume drama. This is especially due to the way Western security agencies have dealt with these organisations and also because of the successes of the civil rights movement and its many revolutionary initiatives since the 1960s.

However, the political, economic and cultural disturbances triggered by the so-called ‘neo-liberal economics’ and politics in the post-Cold War era are now putting out a form of racism that has absolutely nothing to do with white power as such. It is not coming from loud white folks. On the contrary, and ironically, it is mostly coming from some of the races and creeds that have historically been under the hammer of white man’s discrimination and prejudice: Jews, Muslims and Asians.

One must also remember that this racism is not really a new occurrence. It’s been strongly entrenched in the psyches of its perpetuators for many years.

The most obvious has been the anti-Arab racism practiced as a state policy by Israel. The political make-up of this racism has always been evident, but it is the way this political policy has gradually shaped the social and psychological mindset of the Jews living in Israel that is most worrying. Israeli politicians are very conscious of this mindset and the hold it now has over the majority of Jews living in Israel and elsewhere. That’s why every time an opportunity is afoot for a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, it is this anti-Arab mindset that influences the Israeli response.

It is also this mindset that makes a majority of Israelis vote for men and women who want to continue with Israel’s ferocious raids and incursions into poverty-stricken stretches of land populated by the Palestinians.

It was this mindset that violently ended the most promising deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 1995, when an incensed radical Jew assassinated former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after he was close to signing a breakthrough political settlement with Yasser Arafat.

Arabs on the other hand, especially those belonging to oil-rich Arab monarchies, have exhibited various shades of racism against Muslims belonging to non-Arab Muslim countries residing and working in opulent Arab states. Recently there were reports that the Saudi regime had banned its men from marrying women belonging to Pakistan (and a few other developing Asian and African countries).

Racism is also present as a form of bigotry that has been part of India and Pakistan’s sociology long before they were two separate countries. It is deeply rooted in India’s ancient caste system, part of which then influenced social relationships between native Hindus and Muslims in South Asia. It is a racism exercised by not one perpetuator over the other, but by both. Now hundreds of years old, even to this day, many Hindus and Muslims living in India do not eat from the same plate or drink from the same glass.

The most disturbing aspect of this form of racism is the way it is blindly accepted as a social norm. For example, many offices in India still hire Muslims and the Hindu ‘untouchables’ to do the most demeaning chores, and it is an unwritten rule that these employees are not allowed to use cutlery that is being used by other office employees.

In Pakistan such treatment is meted out by Muslims to ‘underclass’ Hindus and Christians. It is an unwritten rule that they will not be allowed to share cutlery used by their Muslim counterparts and neither will they be allowed to prepare and serve tea or food to their Muslim co-workers.

Though most Hindus and Muslims of India and Pakistan do not overtly display such racism, it is very much present in the psyches of the people of both the countries.

Due to the legacy of the caste system in India a Hindu discriminating against another Hindu is a well-known social reality. But this nature of racism has not been alien to Pakistani Muslims either. It is as old as Muslim history in South Asia, and today it is still alive in even the most educated Muslim households in Pakistan as well.

Domestic servants in Pakistan, even if they are Muslims, will always have separate cutlery. They will have a separate glass, plate, spoons and are always required to sit on the floor. Some believe such actions are mainly due to the ‘unhygienic’ make-up of the class of people who become servants. This may have a grain of truth, but it is fairly obvious that basically this bias is yet another expression of the historical racism practiced between Muslims and Hindus of South Asia. It has more to do with a deeply engrained and inherent discriminatory mindset many Muslims and Hindus of the region have carried into the modern age (almost instinctively).

Recently out of such inherent cultural racist tendencies, a more conventional form of racism has emerged in India and Pakistan as well. In 2007, former Australian cricket captain, Ricky Ponting, complained about some Indian spectators who let out monkey noises at the Australian team’s only aborigine player, Andrew Symonds. If this wasn’t bad enough, the very next day, the South African cricket captain, Gerham Smith, accused a bunch of Pakistani spectators of making ape sounds at some of the South African squad’s black players.

Can you imagine ‘brown’ Asians hurling trashy racist taunts at blacks? This may seem outlandish, but if one closely looks at the class make-up of the racist pretenders, one understands their inanity.

A bulk of them (both the Indian and Pakistani batches), were from well-to-do, urban middle-class backgrounds. It is this section of the bourgeoisie that has benefited the most from the neo-liberal capitalist initiatives in both the countries in the last decade or so. They are a cross between social liberalism and orthodox religious and political conservatism.

In this day and age when material wealth is the main indicator of cultural and social trends (through advertising and the eventual ‘dumbing down’ of cultural pursuits), this is a worrying matter. Many will conveniently miss the irony and the unintentional parody associated with the act of Indians and Pakistanis being racist towards blacks. Instead, they will think of it as something to do with ‘patriotism’ or worse, the superiority of their respective faiths and concepts of morality.

It is a case of victims of racism not only becoming racist themselves, but becoming something even worse by cleverly decorating this frame of racial judgment with distorted religious declarations — quite like the white colonialists of yore.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014

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