The Deadly (and Stupid) Ideological Divide
Twitter is filled with people who identify as “Nationalist”, “Indian First”, “Proud American” and what not. The line between patriotism and jingoism for many of these self-declared nationalists is blurry. They cannot tolerate anything that contradicts the nation. Take the recent example of a Youtuber who issued rape threats to a female comedian for allegedly insulting a national hero. When national heroes become gods, they become infallible, so anything that contradicts them, criticises them or questions their actions or thoughts is deemed as intolerable and offensive.
For many people, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is extremely important as a political-philosopher, and for many others he may be a god-like figure too. That didn’t stop Arundhati Roy from criticising him in her book The Doctor and the Saint where she called him a racist. Similarly, when Arun Showrie criticised Ambedkar in his book Worshipping False Gods, many dalits across the country disagreed with the book but they did not abuse him or threaten him. Instead of getting the book banned, they academically responded against him.
Political Science teaches us that a Nation is the coming together of people who share a common descent, culture and history. Benedict Anderson, a political scientist, defined ‘nation’ as an imagined community. Nationalists are defenders of this imagined community. They have a big dilemma in front of them: What constitutes the nation? Is it the people, the territory, the government, the history or sovereignty? Maybe all of these elements form some part of the nation.
This leaves a lot of scope of interpretation (and misinterpretation). For a kattar (hardliner) nationalist, content that shows the armed forces, government, the country’s territory, national heroes and mythological figures in a negative light automatically becomes an intolerable offence, irrespective of the truth. That particular nationalist can hurl abuse, get involved in violence or take legal action to pursue that particular matter.
Nationalists often put the nation on a pedestal, so naturally the government, the armed forces, national heroes etc. are also put on a similar pedestal. If the government is on the pedestal then they cannot be criticised easily (or publicly). If an academician or historian criticises a historic figure through facts, the nationalist rises to defend that national hero.
With the rise of nationalism, we also find the rise of liberals who oppose anything that the nationalists say or do. Opposing the nationalist is the main effort of many liberals and they find themselves on the opposite extreme (thus doing a great disservice to the term liberal). In a constant battle to prove the other person wrong a blame-game is ensured
Today, the truth hardly matters. There is a concerted effort to label truth-tellers as hypocrites, and this tag of hypocrisy becomes greater than the issue itself. Take the example of the BJP party spokesperson Sambit Patra’s tweet that said “PULITZER LOVERS??” on a terror incident in Kashmir. Patra was referring to the Associated Press Journalists who had received the 2020 Pulitzer prize for featured photography that showed the Indian State crackdown in Kashmir. For Patra, what seemed to matter more than the death of the person was the hypocrisy of Pulitzer journalists who were not covering the issue the same way as the Kashmir lockdown.
Everyone, irrespective of their political ideology, is automatically sucked into a vortex of anti-government and pro-government stands. This polarises the environment around us; friends and families are divided based on their view.. This affects the way we look at economics, history, military and even technology. This polarisation corrupts our discourse and hinders critical thinking as we are left straddled on either side defending or attacking an ideology that may not even matter to us that much.
As nationalism rises across the world, you are reduced to mere sides. As Bush junior once said: “You are either with us, or against us”. Plurality is destroyed as the black side fights with the white. It is literally a battle of Yin vs Yang. Those advocating shades of grey are either ignored or called weaklings. Junior Bush’s approach cost the United States around $1 trillion in war expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan. They destroyed the political structure of Iraq by imposing democracy on them and now they are trying to run away from Afghanistan as soon as possible. The War Against Terror may have created more terrorists than any other geo-political conflict.
Polarisation has massive electoral benefits for our political masters. But it relies on dividing the society. Ideological differences arise amongst students, policy makers, bureaucrats, lawyers, judges, doctors, professors and other different professions. Soon, our political ideology becomes our primary driving force. We do things that appease our ideology and say things like: ‘We will not watch this fictional series as it shows this community in a bad light’, ‘We will not order food from that restaurant as it practices meat cutting in a different way’, ‘those people live like that only’. If you hear your parents, relatives, sister, brother, spouse, your friends or even yourself talking in such a manner, then you should take a moment to congratulate your political masters as they have successfully polarised your local sphere.
It took 19 years and three US presidents to solve (more like end) the wars that Jr. Bush’s approach had got the US into . We, as a society, should realise the dangers of polarisation before we are permanently shrinked in colonies of deep dark ideological abyss.