Why is intolerance growing?
- Post by: Ali Riaz
- December 14, 2020
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Intolerance is on the rise, globally and in South Asia. The question that we must confront is what the source of the phenomenon is. Conventional wisdom points to the religious zealots, and blind followers of political ideologies. They are the usual suspects. Notwithstanding the roles of these groups, it is imperative that we look beyond the foot-soldiers and explore the sources. Interestingly, states tend to play a pivotal role in producing and reproducing the causes of and conditions for intolerance, which often lead to political violence. In South Asia, states are engaged in producing a homogenized discourse of patriotism, national identity, purity and danger. These together create a very narrowly defined exclusivist nationalism. In such an environment violent rhetoric becomes naturalized. This exclusivist nationalism creates a binary frame: us versus them. Questioning and/or critical examination of the state-produced ‘us versus them’ narrative is portrayed as un-patriotic, and consequently described as intolerable. It is not only nationalism but also a particular interpretation of a religion which creates this binary. In India, the ‘other’ is the Muslims, and the supremacy of Hindutva ideology is beyond questioning. Similarly, creating the ‘other’ is necessary to endure the dominance of the majority group in Pakistan. Ahmadis and Shia communities have been portrayed as ‘the other’ within Islam and Christian and other religious groups have been ‘the other’ beyond Islam. This exclusivists nationalism, whether it is Bengali nationalism in Bangladesh or Hindu nationalism in India or Sinha-Buddhists nationalism in Sri Lanka, they are ‘Narrow in scope, chauvinistic in content, stereotypical in form, and constructed around the homogenizing impulses.’ Interestingly this exclusive nationalism is then turn into a majoritarian ideology. The proponents of majoritarian arguments assert that they are not only speaking for the ‘majority,’ but also for the nation. Religion, ethnicity, nation and majority are often merged into one and the same.
This kind of environment is rife with sudden outburst of patriotism within the civil society. Mustapha Kamal Pasha, in an essay in 2010, aptly pointed out that although such ‘patriotic fervor may appear spontaneous, [often] its genealogy suggests otherwise.’ Under such circumstances, one must be mindful that the nationalist frenzy or the sudden outburst of patriotism could well be a statist agenda and serves to perpetuate intolerance.