Too much ‘awareness’, not enough action

  • At some point, there has to be action

Religious extremists are not ‘unintelligent’.

It’s unwise to underestimate one’s political opponent under the best of circumstances. And it’s outright foolish to engage in arrogant, self-aggrandizing talk about being ‘educated’ enough to appreciate multiculturalism.

The liberal elite responded to the Ghotki disaster about the same way it reacted to Joseph Colony. Why can’t these fanatics be as smart and cultivated as us? How do we educate these people in the service of inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony? How do we teach these violent, uncultured ruffians that Hindus are humans too, and have the same rights in this country as everyone else?

Resisting oppression is not just an academic mission. Not all of us are teachers, awareness-raisers, and guidance gurus here to spread the gospel of peace and universal tolerance

Liberals and moderates suffer from an alarming poverty of imagination when it comes to tackling bigotry, misogyny, toxic nationalism, and religious fanaticism. The solution is for us all to become educators; to open up our very own classroom on Facebook and Twitter, and teach our followers the value of respecting other people’s religious beliefs. How do I teach my people what ‘real’ Islam is? Never mind learning it, what is the best way to impart my religious knowledge to this awareness-deprived public?

By doing this, we re-frame our resistance of oppression as a fight between intellectuals and anti-intellectuals. The proposed solution is to disarm the radicals with a perfect speech or social media post; one that is so utterly convincing, it leaves the hateful oppressor with no choice but to concede.

A Muslim fanatic does not desecrate a Hindu temple merely because he is unaware or jahil. Desecrating a temple and terrorizing the Hindu minority, although horrific, appears ‘rational’to this fanatic within his own socio-political paradigm. Living in a system that rewards grand gestures of one’s dedication to Islam, and punishes collaboration with non-Muslims, what makes one believe that this fanatic in question ‘wants’ to listen to our liberal lesson on interfaith harmony? In his own mind, the fanatic has carried out a risk-benefit assessment, and has concluded that it’s smarter to gain power by oppressing the minorities, rather than sharing what little power he has with these minorities. It is not the lack of awareness or knowledge, but rather the lack of compassion in a cutthroat politico-economic order that drives this violence.

Understanding patriarchy requires similar comprehension of what motivates or demotivates men. The fact that women have less freedom and fewer opportunities is not lost on most misogynistic men. Feminists often give men some benefit of doubt that they are not ‘aware’ of women’s struggle. But for the most part, these men are perfectly aware of these problems. They know exactly how frequently women get harassed or threatened. Why else do they have anxiety attacks every time their sisters go out in crowded bazaars, or their daughters are seen hanging out with boys?

Once again, a lack of awareness of women’s issues isn’t as much of a problem as men’s lack of motivation to politely listen to women’s demands. Why would any ‘smart’ man voluntarily give up the privilege that’s handed to him as a birthright? A man has every ‘reason’ to dismiss the feminist movement, and maintain his comfortable upper hand in gender matters.

The same folly is repeated in every instance of oppression and injustice internationally. The USA has acquired a negative reputation globally for being ‘stupid’, and Trump’s election as President has done nothing to improve that reputation. But the USA has consistently made unconscionable but otherwise ‘smart’ decisions in the interest of projecting its power across the world. Invading Iraq wasn’t ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’. The American military-industrial complex benefited heavily from the war, just as the British Empire was perfectly aware of what it was gaining from colonialism.

Why then does our ‘activism’ never extend beyond lecturing people on the beauty of multiculturalism and the importance of safeguarding labour rights? If you were to share a Facebook article with Winston Churchill on how heart-wrenchingly difficult life is for the starving masses in colonized Bengal, his straight-faced response might be, “I know. I’m the one who made things that way.” What is the purposes of endlessly preaching the virtues of fairness to those who are, directly or passively, benefitting from unfair structures?

At some point, we must proceed beyond ‘awareness-raising’ and consider meaningful action. Workers must unionize and rely on collective bargaining rather than individual appeals. Protest for policy changes. Boycott those are aligned with the oppressor and divest from sources that empower the subjugator. Yelling at a random, powerless person on Facebook for nine hours for not acknowledging transgender rights, is an ineffective use of one’s time. Socialize with people who do acknowledge the significance of your goals, and take organized action.

Resisting oppression is not just an academic mission. Not all of us are teachers, awareness-raisers, and guidance gurus here to spread the gospel of peace and universal tolerance; nor do all of us need to be so. Some must reach out to the disenfranchized with practical help, and demand policy changes that incentivize harmony.