Cultivating the hate virus

 

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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 29 Jan 98


‘It is the legacy of bigoted religious and ethnic leaders who are not grounded in essential humanism’

 

‘We are so lucky to be part of the New World. We have largely escaped the full blown hate virus which always leads to human carnage’

 

‘Like children, we can experiment in our Caribbean pot, give ourselves up to it without limits’

 

The room sparked. Voices flew, from all sides - concerned, analytical and wise. Trying to work out where the increased violence of rape came from, scores of concerned NGOs meeting to find a solution.

 

The representative from the IRO (Inter Religious Organisation) was silent, until he had to go. Then he raised his hand and spewed out his fetid contribution, making 40 hearts sink.

“I saw a TV programme which showed that when African wives die, a daughter in the household takes the mother’s place and sleeps with her father.”

He continued to bumble on in the same vein. Mouths opened, eyebrows raised in amazement. The Voice of Ignorance had spoken, implied that it was “natural” for Africans to commit incest, even rape young women. He was put in his place. Somebody asked him to apologise, and the rank air cleared with his hasty departure.

 

Hate wasn’t built in a day. I have said over and over again how lucky we are to be part of the New World. We don’t have the baggage which makes a million Muslims and Hindus slaughter one another in India, or Bosnia, or Algeria or Rwanda. Yesterday Muslims slaughtered Hindus in Kashmir. These symptoms of the hate virus (rape, genocide, brutality) didn’t happen in ten, 50, even 100 years. They grew over centuries before hardening like rock into the psyche of people, so that when it becomes genetic, inherited, like bone structures and hair colour. It is the legacy of bigoted religious and ethnic leaders who are not grounded in essential humanism. Themselves insecure and hungry for power, they lead their flock into narrow-minded ignorance because that is the only way they can control them.

 

Consider Adolf Hitler. He was not, as he is portrayed, an aberration, an evil man. He was a symptom of his times. He did what the people wanted. Hitler, who put six million Jews in gas chambers, reflected the general will of his people. (There were members of the resistance of course who fought against this genocide, but they were the exception). Germans who actively supported the Holocaust, or passively went along with it, weren’t necessarily evil either. The truth is that this little ugly man and his followers felt threatened by the Jews: rising economic and social status, religious and cultural beliefs which made them self contained. Like all insecure people he was only able to feel tall by cutting down everyone taller than him. As a leader he ought to have challenged his people to achieve. Instead, he deluded the masses (who didn’t know better) with waves of propaganda and racism, produced theories that to be Semitic was to be sub-human, parasites, and told ignorant people to define themselves not by achievement but by their fair skin and hair and features.

 

Any basic psychology course will tell you that 90 to 100 percent of the time when people are brutal or just mean, it comes from something inside them, some self hate or disappointment which they take out on you. So this diminutive, rather ugly little man, with the hate of thousands of Germans congealed in his heart, ordered that men women and children be taken by train - in Poland, France and Germany  - to camps.

 

In the wonderful two-part film Shoah, which tells the story of the Holocaust through survivors and eye-witnesses, we heard how men and women who were late for trains which would take them to gas chambers actually ran to catch them, in the faith that they were being relocated. The slyness of it gets me. It wasn’t open war. It was cold, calculating, cowardly first degree murder of six million people - children, women and men - caught unawares, cunningly tricked.

 

The Holocaust has not yet become history. The last of the survivors still exist. They are scattered, in America, England, anywhere they were accepted. And so do the Nazis who, up to a few years ago, were being hunted in a desperate effort for some justice. Survivors and their children have yet to come to grips with having their entire families stripped, branded, showered (“deloused” was the term) and gassed. (It is well known how the stronger among them had to help dig mass graves to bury their own dead.) The allies, Brits, Free French, Americans and others who knew of this horror in Europe - Jews packed like sardines on trains on their way to ovens - pretended it wasn’t happening, and didn’t publicise it.

 

In Israel some years back I visited the museum of Yaad-va-Shem in Tel Aviv. It was haunting - with special effects of children’s voices, photos of dead children, sudden darkness, shouts and flashing lights which accompanied screaming, creating disorientation, dread. For me what recreated the horror was the mounds, 20 feet high, and ten feet wide, of glasses, shoes, clothes belonging to dead Jews.

 

I walked out then into the raging Intifada, where Palestinians desperate for self-rule, were throwing rocks at the Jews, getting shot, and shooting, to the sight of Jewish soldiers with machine guns standing on mosques, uncaring of sacrilege. How, I asked a reunion of the first Jewish settlers, the creators of the Kibbutz, could a people who had suffered so much oppress another people? In one suffering lined face after the next (many were survivors or had lost mother, father, brother sister to the gas chambers) I heard the same answers. “We have suffered throughout history. This used to be our homeland before the Palestinians. They are our enemies now.” Hate is bereft of logic, begets hate.

 

You wonder why I pile so many gruesome images at you. Since the Jewish Holocaust there have been many others bred by ignorance. We are so lucky to be part of the New World. We have largely escaped the full blown hate virus which always leads to human carnage. We have, in the process of being cut off from our origins, shed historical hatred, which has been built up over centuries into rocks of hatred all over the old world: India, Pakistan, Turkey and Afganisthan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Algeria, Uganda. Only this week 20 Hindus were murdered in Kashmir by Muslims separatists.

 

Just look at us. At our gifts. Here, Muslims and Hindus offer up prayers in churches. Hindus marry Muslims, have children or mothers who are Christian. Sometimes people follow two religions at a time. Hindus, Muslims, Christians cook for and attend one another’s functions, support one another’s charities. People of all races make up our Carnival. Fasting Muslims attend Shri-Vvasudeva’s meditation.

 

Roti’s and doubles, a dollar wine, pelau and burgers are national property rather than that of any race. In 1989, an entire country shed tears in the Stadium. There was no race then.

But the cracks have begun.

 

The sliding scale starts small, with contemptuous little jokes of British and French personal hygiene, then turns into venom “dense Irishman”, the “dead-pan Oriental” gathers force as the “African rapist”, the “infidel Hindus”, the “barbaric Muslims”, and ends with the “stingy sub-human Jew” who is killed. Our people are quivering on a cusp like Jell-O which may either spill into blood or art. Both sides are now gathering forces.

 

The first side: It isn’t quite full-blown hate. The disease, if not controlled will run its course. The ignorance is just beginning to congeal. When it does, it will turn into contempt, which will turn into hate. There are symptoms of the disease in porches over Carib and peanuts, in whispers in cocktail parties, in calypso tents and the market. “Indians” “Africans” “Chinee people” “Them Syrians...” “White people”. At times they are quiet and deadly, and other times they erupt like boils into the open - certain columnists display the full blown disease week after week, as they claim supremacy, cry persecution, throw missiles. But generally, like most deadly diseases, it isn’t polite to mention that we have it in public. Everybody pretends they are free of it or, like the allies in the second world war, that it isn’t happening. It may take a century for the symptoms of ignorance and contempt to be mulled into full blown hate, get inside our skin, or it may be imminent. It is difficult to measure whether we are on the verge of an epidemic. There are few facts, and statistics are non-existent.

 

The second side: We can, instead of defining ourselves by what we are not, create something which belongs to us all. Just as I find religious or ethnic bigotry reprehensible, I do not believe that people should be forced to throw in their lot with everyone else and make scramble eggs of all culture. Traditions, age-old scriptures, history and rituals give people a sense of themselves. But we in the Caribbean have been forced to reinvent ourselves. Our history is scrappy, our religion is that of New World missionaries, of remembered rituals and spontaneous eruptions. Some of us have come here with little suitcases filled with memorabilia more than 150 years old, and in order to feel safe, we climb back inside the suitcase. Others of us who were forcibly stripped of our past had to reinvent ourselves. (Out of which has emerged an instrument which I predict in a few years - once the foreigners get the hang of it - will be absorbed into mainstream music. Incredible for a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea.) Still others of us, tiny minorities, pick out what we want, like a leisurely Dim Sum. “I’ll have a bit of calypso, a roti for breakfast, talk like an American, and on Sundays, stay with the staple of Catholic/Anglican Church and ten commandments.”

 

Everyone needs to belong. It is natural for us to hold on to where we came from (so few of us are sure and India, Africa and Europe are continents and too general to provide a solid identity).  Like children, we can experiment in our Caribbean pot, give ourselves up to it without limits, add colours, create new shades, experiment with shapes and voices, stir drums with the sitar and piano, mix bhangra and dub. We can put into this pot our perspectives of the New World: indentured labourers, freed slaves, plantation owners, immigrants, and claim our history and philosophy. All this possibility, these open canvases to fill can be threatening, so from time to time we may retreat to where we think we come from. But how ridiculous we are when we mimic a country to which we no longer belong and then hate on behalf of it!

 

No race has the patent on humanity (noun of humanity - kindness). Culture, tradition and religion, as important as they are in our self definition, is ultimately cosmetic. The human heart with its endless chambers is our only true gauge. The gamut of human impulses and desires, of good and evil, is spread in various and random proportions in all humans. This centre, and nothing else (which we intuitively sense) dictates to us our truest feelings of kinship or revulsion about those whom we meet. How else do you explain at times to finding a kindred spirit in a foreigner, someone who can’t even speak your language, or dislike of those who are similar to you? 

 

Mahatma Gandhi, witnessing the rivers of blood that partition of India/Pakistan unleashed, said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” It would be stupid of us not to learn from the lessons before and around us.

 

As for the Inter Religious Organisation. I don’t know what criteria it uses to induct members but I think a sound education in humanities should be a requisite if they are to represent all the religions and races of this country. They should be tolerant. Also intelligent. The concept of an IRO is excellent and it has worked as a great harmoniser but put people mediocre on top and what we get is trickle-down ignorance, hate and eventually in centuries, decades even, to come, carnage. Where are we headed? One point two (or three) million people need to decide.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur