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Power of hate

May 19, 2017


WHAT is it about hate that is so compelling? In the past two decades alone, one comes across innumerable examples of demagogues and/or organised cliques being able to mobilise hordes of people in the name of hate. Think the Rwandan genocide, the civil war in erstwhile Yugoslavia, and our own Islamists. If we go even further back in time a definitive trend becomes apparent. Fas­cism in Germany and Italy is probably the most quoted example of organised slaughter, but we ignore at our own peril the hateful orgy of violence that took place in Punjab during the partition of 1947-48. A long history of peaceful coexistence was expunged from the record as Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus turned on one another in an unprecedented demonstration of the power of hate.

Ever since then, the subcontinent has struggled to move beyond the politics of hate; state ideologies have, in fact, been constructed around a process of ‘othering’ through which we have learned to hate our neighbour. In Pakistan, this has meant not only assuming that all Indians (read Hindus) are enemies of Pakistan (read Muslims), but perhaps more significantly that those Pakistani (Muslims) that do not tow the official line are agents of the enemy.

This was how we denigrated the struggle of (East Pakistani) Bengalis, political movements of other oppressed nations, and, for that matter, any and all class-based, pro-democracy and other political movements that challenged the status quo.

It is in this context that we must think through another episode of political violence that jarred the senses this past week. Sindhi labourers working at a construction site in Gwadar were gunned down in broad daylight in an attack that was reportedly claimed by Baloch separatists. That this incident should be condemned unequivocally goes without saying. But condemnation alone is insufficient to counter the power of hate that motivates such brutal killings.

The Gwadar killings shows deep alienation.

Balochistan and the conflict that continues within it now only makes the news indirectly, generally via CPEC-related discussions of security requirements, and the constant reminders that all bad things in Balochistan are explained by India’s machinations. Yet public relations strategies aside, it is clear that officialdom recognises the disaffection within Baloch society. Greater efforts to integrate at least some segments through employment in the civil and military services and scholarships to study abroad have abounded over the past few years, even while the military ‘solution’ has continued to be pursued relentlessly and increasingly indiscriminately.

The efforts at co-option aside, the incident in Gwadar confirms that the alienation in Baloch society runs deep. This alienation has now metamorphosed into a politics of hate that proclaims as just the targeting of non-Baloch workers who themselves are losers of Pakistan’s social order. It is more than a little ironic that the victims in this case hailed from Naushero Feroz, the heartland of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), which the Zia regime crushed mercilessly in the mid-1980s.

Was the Baloch movement always prone to xenophobia? Did it mirror the politics of hate propagated by Pakistani officialdom? No, it did not. There has been a long history of non-Baloch constituencies participating in the Baloch struggle for recognition, resources and equality. But this progressive tradition has been steadily eroded over the past couple of decades, in part because of global developments (read, the collapse of the socialist bloc) and also due to systematic repression that has weeded out those who sought to transcend the politics of hate.

This isn’t to suggest that ultimate res­ponsibility for the direction of the Baloch movement can be deflected away from the leaders of this movement, because chan­ges in objective realities have to be responded to sensibly while remaining true to the principles that guide emancipatory politics. The politics of hate cannot be defeated by another politics of hate.

Yet this also means that the rest of us Pakistanis need to think long and hard about the extent to which hate has penetrated the body politic. There is a morbid helplessness about those of us not directly exposed to political violence; we see hate and intolerance around us but usually shy away from confronting it because we have not yet been immediately affected by its more violent manifestation. This helplessness extends to our attitudes towards state narratives — we empower the state to ‘eliminate’ non-state violence without considering at all the root causes of this violence, including the role of the state in propagating hate of the ‘other’.

In some ways responding to hate and violence is easy — one can condemn it and wish for it to be replaced by tolerance and peace. Yet at the same time we have to recognise that the power of hate can only be challenged by another power — the wilful coming together of conscious people to propagate an alternative politics to construct society in another image.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017