By Abhishek Jha:
There are two things regarding the recent Charleston shooting. The way these shootings are characterised by conservative media, and the terrorist-organisation-style rationalisation that Dylann Roof gave before murdering nine people.
When a male white shooter is only termed a “lone gunman“, a “mentally ill person” etc., the nomenclature denies that there is a systemic problem, that there is a hatred being methodically fed to the person by the establishments and structures around him.
In the critically acclaimed TV series ‘The Wire’, there is an episode where Prez, a supposedly incompetent police officer, shoots a black officer in plain clothes when responding to a distress call. His colleagues loathe him for being “a goof”, but most of them deny a racial angle to the shooting. But Prez himself admits that he would not be able to ascertain if that was in his head. Another colleague questions in private whether the plain clothes officer would have been shot if he had been white.
When structural violence by the police passes off as just law enforcement, when entire wars are waged killing innocent people in the name of “national security”, it is bound to create prejudices that run deep in the psyche of the people. Dylann Roof didn’t think he was doing something bad. He thought he was killing people who are “taking over the country“. Isn’t this the kind of rationalisation that terrorist organisations give for attacks?
Reportedly, before murdering six women (and three men), Roof said, “You rape our women. And you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” We saw a similar kind of fear being articulated against a woman who was wearing a hijab in a commuter train in Sydney earlier this year. And there is a lesson to be learnt by those of us in India. Wasn’t a similar mythical figure of the Muslim man as rapist invoked by the VHP and the rest of the Sangh parivar before the 2014 elections? Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, a documentary by Nakul Singh Sawhney on the Muzaffarnagar riots, shows Amit Shah justifying the riots as a fight for protecting the “honour” of Hindu women in a public speech. The VHP is also calling for a strike in Gujarat this month after a woman was allegedly abducted recently in Nadiad town of Gujarat and is calling this an act of “love-jihad”.
As philosopher Slavoj Zizek in ‘The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology’ said, “Because, isn’t it that, for example, the most extreme case of ideology, maybe in the history of humanity, the Nazi fascist anti-Semitism worked in the same way? Imagine an ordinary German citizen in the late 20s, early 30s. His situation is, in an abstract way, the same as that of a small child. He’s totally perplexed…What does society want from him? Why is everything going wrong? The way he perceives the situation is that newspapers lie to him. He lost his work because of inflation. He lost all his money in the bank. He sees moral degradation and so on. So what’s the meaning of this all?…You need to generate an ideological narrative which explains who things went wrong in a society, not as a result of the inherent tensions in the development of this society but as the result of a foreign intruder. Things were okay until Jews penetrated our social body. The way to restore the health of our social body is to eliminate the Jews.”
Similar misrepresentation is also at work in our country. On a right wing website, which I found when researching the Muzaffarnagar riots, I found a similar image of the Muslim rapist being conjured through misrepresentation of reports. None of the reports it cites actually could point to which religion the victim of the rape or sexual assault belonged to. But since the offenders could be named and, in all cited reports, they were Muslim, it could help invoke a threat to the Hindu community.
Terrorists are often people who feed too much on these mythical figures, which simplify the confusion surrounding them. The work of a society then should be to eliminate the conditions that allow for this. Because it doesn’t matter whether Dylann Roof is mentally ill or not. His act would qualify as an act of racism and of terrorism because of the practices of American institutions against people of colour – racial profiling, for instance. They really have a well-equipped police department, which helped them apprehend Roof within a day. But policing is not the answer to the problem that has and might yet again make another Dylann Roof.