By Abul Kalam Azad:
Just as the streets of Delhi were swarming with jubilation, and I was musing over the contours of joy I didn’t fully share, a few posts from friends in the U.S. caught my distracted attention.
The deaths of three bright and beautiful people, “23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat; his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha; and her 19-year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha“, described as ,“young university students, Muslims of Arab descent, and high achievers who regularly volunteered” in Chapel Hill, which is “a quiet neighborhood in North Carolina”. The suspect is Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white man. He was a neighbor of the victims and a self-proclaimed anti-theist who hated all religions. He later handed himself to the police. Meanwhile, the police surmise that the killings might have taken place over ‘a parking dispute’, while the family members of the victims assert that this was ‘a hate crime’ and that he had a history of harassing the victims.
The Islamophobic Anti-Theist
Hate comes in myriad forms. Some are explicit, naive and easily condemnable by ‘sensible’ sections of the society. And there is another kind. Subtle, like a snake that does not hiss, couched in the objective vocabulary of science, rationality and reason. This variety is very difficult to discern due to the halo of respectability attached to it, and requires a lot of conscious effort to engage with, expose and critique it. The hate of the anti-theist falls in this broad insidious category of unnoticed bigotry.
If there is any sort of politics that is purposefully pointless, snobbish and condescending, it is that of the anti-theist. God does not exist and is a mud-headed moron. So anyone who believes in God and practises a religion, devoid of their socio-political-cultural-economic contexts, is a superstitious idiot (it doesn’t matter that it includes significant sections of the most marginalized, oppressed and persecuted people).
A very narrow understanding of what religion means and signifies defines their world view and the irresponsible politics that emerge from that putrefied perceptions. Their obsession with religion, and consequent insertion of it in issues that don’t concern it, can be only matched with the likes of the religious bigots. For both of them, the world begins and ends with religion. It is amusing that most of these ‘anti-theists’ or ‘new atheists’ are privileged white heterosexual men like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.
They cloak their racism and Islamophobia in the fortified robes of equality – ‘we hate all religions equally’. This illusion of equality is what empowers the abhorrent self-righteousness of their hate-filled rhetoric. In a society where certain religions and people belonging to them have been historically, systemically, racialized and other-ized, it is a farce to claim moral superiority while hiding in the shade of equality for evidently unequal people. When the critique is deliberately decontextualized, it inevitably descends into an oppressive endeavour strengthening the status quo and feeding violence of different hues.
Disposable deaths and patented terrorism
Some lives are more precious than others. So are some deaths. Why is it that most of the people who are killed for casual and not-worthy-of-death reasons like parking disputes, wearing hoodies, selling cigarettes etc. happen to be from the marginalized sections like Muslims and African-Americans? Is there something in the mode of their deaths that can tell us about the value of their lives? How much hate must a person or a system engender and normalize for a racialized community like Muslims that he can kill three of them over something as irrelevant as a parking dispute? Would he have had carried the deed with such ease if the dispute was with a white Christian family? The reason for murder, many times, hides more than it reveals. These young people would be living, loving, and laughing if it weren’t for the fact that their lives are devalued, and their deaths disposable in the racist Islamophobic environment they found themselves in.
Of course no one would call this murder an act of racial terrorism, but instead precariously absolve it by calling it an aberration or an act of a mentally deranged lunatic. And no community/ideology would be asked to bear the burden of these hideous murders. Terrorism is a word patented for the Muslim community by the powers that be and none except a Muslim can be a terrorist. Terrorism (manufactured, that is) is an industry by itself that feeds the neo-colonial greed of imperialist nations and is an item of extreme media curiosity that has more buyers than sellers. Had the perpetrator been a Muslim, the news would have transcended parochial boundaries and generated heated brainstorming in places such as India where there is a bustling market for concerns of terrorism. Since its the other way around, this would just remain a murder that happened somewhere in America that has no place in our coffee house discussions or media debates, relegated to a small-letter news item in the interior of the newspaper no one cares to read, and would never be treated as a stark indication of the growing racial violence and hatred towards the Muslim community in many parts of the globe (India, included). After all, some news are more newsworthy than others.
Coming from a country that fetishizes and idolizes anything American, from underwears to undertakers, it is alarming to be reassured, again and again, that the worth of a Muslim life, and death, is something that remains the same in both the places.
Hatred unites. Like grief.