Antidote for violence

Kill the germ of intolerance.   | Photo Credit: Darko Vojinovic

France, Kuwait, Tunisia. In three separate attacks, Islamist extremism destroyed at least 70 lives on July 26, in the month of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to abstain from not just violent acts but also violent thoughts. One need not be secular to condemn such acts. They condemn themselves even in terms of traditional Islamic belief, regarding Ramadan for instance.

But these were not the first such acts committed by Islamists, and unfortunately they won’t be the last. It is no longer sufficient to blame Islamist extremism. Even religious Muslims have to ask themselves now: do they not harbour the germ of violence in their own thoughts? There are many ways in which this germ can penetrate the lives of ordinary religious Muslims who are shocked by such violence. For instance, if you believe that other people have less of a right to worship their gods in public — as in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Here you have a germ that can lead to violence, and often does. Similarly, if you believe that men have the right to impose their will on women, to tell them how to act or dress for instance. It’s a short step from such a dominant male perspective to physical violence.

Of course, this does not apply to Muslims only. Many Hindu nationalists in India fall into the same trap by proscribing and prescribing the right dress or conduct for women. From there it is easy to move to acid attacks, rapes, and murders. All such violence — whether it is a lover throwing acid on a girl who rejects him, or a man raping a woman who wears trousers and goes out late in the evening, or an Islamist beheading his boss and mounting the head on a gate — is inspired by an inability to accept the fact that other people can differ from oneself in terms of behaviour, dress, belief, etc. The extremist acts on his refusal to accept difference, but a lot of religious people, nationalists, etc. bear this refusal in their hearts without acting on it. Such hearts inadvertently nourish the roots of the intolerance that gives us the violent fruits of extremism. There is a line connecting your refusal to accept the difference of another in your heart and the violence of the rapist, the rioter, the religious extremist. Perhaps what is lacking is just the trigger of social, political and economic factors.

This applies to the West too. Just over a week before the three Islamism-inspired attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia, there was another terror attack. This time it was not inspired by Islamism. On the evening of June 17, a mass shooting took place in one of the oldest Black churches in United States in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people were killed. Police arrested a suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, the morning after the attack. He was white.

The two crimes were not linked by the police, though I immediately thought of Anders Breivik, the infamous Norwegian far-right terrorist and the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks, which killed almost 100 youth supporters of a left-leaning Norwegian party. Breivik had blamed left-leaning Norwegians for letting coloured immigrants and Muslims into Norway. His terror was intended to launch a counter-attack. Roof, similarly, appeared to have been motivated by his hatred of African-Americans. Both seem to have been white racists, motivated by a fundamentalist version of Christianity. The connection between the two was not noted in the Western media, but I would be surprised if Roof was not motivated by Breivik’s ‘example’, just as Islamist ‘lone wolves’, without any direct link to ISIS or similar groups, are motivated by the ‘example’ of earlier Islamist attacks.

It is futile to look for direct connections between such attacks. What one needs to do is look into the hearts of all believers: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, or, for that matter, nationalist. Or such believers need to look into their own hearts. If you find in your heart a refusal to accept the different views, lives and beliefs of others, then, believe me, your heart is the place from which all such violence originates —  no matter how peaceful you are in real life.

All our hearts contain a germ or two of intolerance. There are, however, many antibiotics to kill these germs. For a man, the most accessible antibiotic is this one: let the women in your lives (and around you) differ from you. Do not tell them what to do and think, how to dress and behave; let them be. Take this antibiotic in steady doses, every hour, and you might well cure the world of the epidemic of violence one day!

Tabish Khair is an Indian novelist and academic who teaches in Denmark.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 1:15:34 AM |

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