Budgeting hate

Published June 11, 2021
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

WHEREVER one looks, the spectre of hate haunts humanity. The dastardly killing of a Muslim immigrant family in otherwise idyllic suburban Canada is the latest story to dominate the news cycle, preceded by so many we have since forgotten.

Lest we forget, the wanton violence of renegade white Islamophobes is paralleled by ‘banal’ reiterations of racism, classed and imperialist power at the highest levels of Western officialdom. The recent warnings issued by US Vice President Kamala Harris to immigrant workers seeking to make their way across the US-Mexico border sound an awful lot like what the previous administration in Washington used to spout.

Yes, this is the same Kamala Harris who, along with Joe Biden, was celebrated as salvation for humanity following their defeat of Trump. And yes, you should feel sheepish now if you were wildly optimistic about the ‘new’ leaders of post-Trump America.

Long before Trump, George W. Bush’s neocons initiated what they called a ‘New American Century’ by occupying Afghanistan. Another history lesson is in order here: does anyone remember the liberal fantasies that were triggered by the US invasion about the Afghan Taliban being obliterated? Twenty years of the ‘war on terror’ later, those fantasies have evaporated, leaving behind an orgy of hateful violence in Afghanistan. As so many sane voices have been warning to no avail, this hateful violence is slowly spilling over into our own tribal districts too.

The politics of hate thrives because of economic crises.

It is, of course, easy to blame only American Empire, Zionists and various other ‘foreign hands’ for all of the world’s troubles. Pakistan has enough home-grown hate to compete with the best of them. The various hues of Taliban are always near the top of the list. The TLP has emerged in recent years as the newest kid on the block, and can even run Twitter trends to match. More generally, not a day goes by when Ahmadi places of worship, Christian churches and Hindu temples are attacked, even as members of these communities are falsely framed for blasphemy, forcibly converted, or simply lynched.

All of these manifestations of organised hate, home and abroad, cannot be explained by some overarching theory of intrinsic cultural propensity. What some commentators call ‘culture wars’ have, since the turn of the millennium at least, been propped up by the ‘war on terror’. Put simply, Western governments have given a fillip to Islamophobia and other forms of racism in their own countries by raising the bogeyman of ‘terrorism’ in faraway, often Muslim lands. Meanwhile, the religious right in many Muslim countries, including ours, has in turn indoctrinated young people into thinking that all of ‘America’s wars’ are targeting ‘Islam’, as if the latter is a monolith.

Western leaders talk of ‘multiculturalism’ in their own societies — and this list includes Macron, Trudeau, Biden-Harris, and even the much-lauded Jacinda Ardern — but they refuse to acknowledge the structural racism within, and imperialist policies without, that reproduce hate. Meanwhile, leaders like Imran Khan, Tayyip Erdogan and Narendra Modi have built their entire political careers by playing to hawkish domestic galleries. Now wanting to stay in power, their rhetoric has ramped up further.

SMOKERS’ CORNER: ISLAMOPHOBIA AND SECULARISM

Across the world, in fact, the politics of hate thrives because of economic crises endemic to capitalism. Immigrant workers that come into Western countries legally or otherwise are now perceived as taking ‘white people’s’ jobs. When the regime of neoliberal globalisation was thriving, Western governments themselves outsourced jobs and welcomed cheaper labour to keep manufacturing and service industries profitable. With the neoliberal miracle having imploded, compounded by the fallout of Covid-19, xenophobic nationalism covers up failed economic policy.

In our part of the world, as well as other so-called ‘emerging markets’ with youthful populations, the pandemic has put paid to the notion of anyone who works hard enough pushing their way into a mythical ‘global middle class’. In India alone, an estimated 230 million people have been relegated back below the poverty line, their tenuous ‘middle-class’ status in tatters.

There is more to the politics of hate than economic hardship, but combining the latter with toxic ideology certainly produces a potent cocktail. Which brings me, in closing, to the presentation of the federal budget today. This policymaking exercise used to be perceived as somewhat relevant to the working masses. Is there anything beyond number-fudging, the dictates of the IMF and other creditors, and the ever greater economic desires of a militarised state apparatus, propertied mafias, and the chattering classes that this exercise now represents?

The classed, racialised and imperialised local and global political economy leave only the budgeting of hate for the proverbial masses. And then our rulers tell us to eat cake.

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

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2021

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