By Raffique Shah
January 15, 2011
NOBEL Laureate Paul Krugman (Economics, 2008) referred to it as the “Climate of Hate”. In his New York Times column last week, he pointed to “incitement” coming from politicians and media commentators on the far right in America that factored in the murderous carnage in Arizona. Democrat Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Judge John Roll were victims of a wild shooting spree by a mentally disturbed 22-year-old man, which claimed five lives.
Krugman noted that Giffords and Roll were targeted by “purveyors of hate” prior to the incident. Reports allege that Republican presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, on her website, placed a sniper’s crosshairs on Giffords’s district, among others held by the Democrats. Empty-headed Palin has since “scrubbed” the crosshairs, but stoutly defends her vitriol against the Democrats, among them President Barack Obama. Krugman and other commentators and analysts also pointed fingers at a cross-section of radio and television talk shows’ hosts, whose forte, hence ratings, thrive on spewing hate and damnation from their electronic pulpits.
America will have to deal with the monsters it created. Interestingly, extremist Muslims, Hindus and Christians engage in similar hate mongering. They casually call on the gullible among their flocks to annihilate those who do not hold similar beliefs to theirs. Mullahs call for “jihads”. The blind and dumb among their jamaats follow through with suicide bombings and other indiscriminate attacks, killing many innocent people—in the name of Allah, I suppose.
Many people may not know that fanatical Hindus in India have instigated and executed numerous death-dealing attacks against mainly Muslim minorities in their communities.
They also target Christians and low caste Hindus in their bid to cleanse India of non-Hindus, to carve out Hindutva. As for Christians who believe theirs is the only way to heaven, we saw the atrocities they are capable of committing during the Bosnia and Kosovo conflict that targeted Muslims. That mindset is also prevalent among many in the US military who are fighting futile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The reason I raise these unacceptable levels of intolerance, which can easily descend into an abyss of violence, is I see signs of it in our country. Go to any of the “ethnic blogs” or websites run by irresponsible individuals or groups, and you would understand where I am coming from. While freedom of expression is a fundamental right most among us would never dream of tampering with, the responsibility that goes with it is as important as the right.
The Internet is a useful modern tool that has become a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the wicked and the nasty. The level of vitriol peddled through this medium is frightening. The administrators of these “blogs” must shoulder blame for the racism, religious and political intolerance, character assassination and sheer ignorance that are peddled on their sites. Lest readers think this level of discourse emanates from the ignorant or uninformed, think again. Last week, I read a vicious attack on some of my colleagues by a character who purports to be an intellectual. I shall not be surprised if this seedless-raisin comes after me when he reads this. He knows, though, that he can do that only from a distance—never within reach of my fist!
Politicians are pilloried as a matter of course. When Patrick Manning was prime minister and the PNM in government, several ministers were viciously attacked, abused and libelled. Now, with the People’s Partnership in office, PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her colleagues face a similar fare. Of course, we columnists tear into politicians as we see fit. But we cannot cross the thin line that distinguishes criticism from abuse, or worse, call for ignorant people to verbally or physically attack those who hold public office.
Besides the laws of libel that demark our boundaries, basic intelligence, staying informed, and having class define the good columnist. If we fall short, the editors and managers of media houses will boot us out in short order. They have the responsibility to ensure their newspapers maintain standards. In my 30-odd years as a columnist, there were but few occasions on which editors spoke with me about the contents of my columns. Not once did they try to muzzle me.
The Internet is an untamed jungle in which feral beasts are free to roam, to prey on victims, to use the most abusive language. Worst of all, most of them remain faceless and nameless, which adds to the danger they pose. In Palin’s case, she is the recognisable face of the far right, of those who purport to represent “real America”. They arrogate unto themselves the right to use any means possible to rid their country of liberal whites, all blacks and immigrants of any hue.
Much like ignorant talk show hosts, blind pastors and Fox News, they know well that their caustic calls to arms can lead to crackpots carrying out acts like the one in Arizona.
Are they any different to the Mullahs of Kandahar? Or the fire-and-brimstone pastors who preach pure venom? People like Palin are dangerous not just to America, but to the world. Can you imagine America under President Palin? That’s a frightening prospect.
While we leave America to clean up its mess, we need to deal with such elements who peddle their poison via the Internet right here in our not-so-perfect country. They pose a danger to our stability, our tolerance, our joie de vivre, the best things we have going for us.