I was shopping for some clothes in Mumbai over the weekend, when I overheard the Gujju shopkeeper talking to a friend of his. Both gentlemen were agitated that the J&K C.M had deemed it fit to ask for a Presidential pardon for Afjal Guru, one of the accused behind the Parliament attack."Kitni galat baat hai"the shopkeeper remarked, while stealing a furtive glance at me. I could then sense him getting a bit uneasy and trying to gauge whether I was a Muslim(Probably because I had not shaved in a few days),as if, if I was one, I would automatically disapprove what he had just said.
This incident illustrates the kind of mistrust that has developed between Hindus & Muslims in India. Hindus have begun to routinely doubt the patriotic instincts of Muslims, while Muslims, majority of whom have nothing to do with terrorism, feel unfairly targetted. While the eighties was limited to shrill protests when a handful of Muslims burst firecrackers if (or more appropriately, when) Pakistan won a cricket match, the nineties and the twenty first century has seen Hindus wondering if their next door Muslim neighbor is not yet another terrorist plotting to blow up the neighbourhood. Right wing Political parties have poured oil on troubled waters by trying to lend credence to this misplaced belief. So much so that even the Prime Minister felt it fit to issue a statement and condemn this propaganda.
Sadly, Islamophobia is not the preserve of fringe extremist elements any more. Increasingly, the Centre and even the Centre-left of the political space, in many pre-dominantly non-Muslim countries, is shifting inexorably to the right. George Bush in an unprecedented statement used the word 'Islamofascism' recently, and urged the world to fight it. Such a statement would have met with stiff resistance in socialist Europe once. But the fact that Tony Blair and Angela Merkel seem to be on Bush's side on this one, demonstrates how some bombs and a few hundred dead citizens can change long held political and moral beliefs.
Fact is, that even Bush has clarified that he doesn't equate the entire Muslim world with fascism, but reality and perception are not necessarily the same. By the time Bush had finished his address, commentators were agog with the new ‘F’ word and what amounted , in their perception , of scaling up the war against terror to a totally different ideological plane- for the simple war against terror to war against 'fascist Islam’. The implications of this term are far reaching. While war against terror meant war against terrorists and those who supported them, war against 'fascist Islam' could mean an imminent war against Iran, Syria. But Bush's explanation and indeed his message itself was lost in the media onslaught which followed. Indeed,in today’s world it's the media more than anything else that determines the meaning of a message and delivers it the way it wants to. The messenger has become the message!
Consider for instance as to how even relatively small scale terror attacks or even the fear of these is leading to dis-proportionate responses, thanks largely to the global reach of the media. The WTC attack, while dastardly, killed just 3000 people, comparatively a small number, considering that, for example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,which triggered the USA to attack Japan during WW-II, was far bigger in scale. But the media coverage and the sheer spectacle of the attack was enough for NATO to invade Afganistan.The London and Madrid bombings are incidents which are miniscule in terms of scale to many other historical trigger points for conflicts,around the world. But again, they succeeded in drawing far more attention and a disproportionate reaction (In Spain, the people voted out the govt. which it was deemed to have brought up the attack due to its involvement in the war). The recent war between Israel and Lebanon is also a classic illustration of how a mere kidnapping of two soldiers can be triggered into full blown war. While I am not for the moment suggesting that the media is ALONE to blame for pushing countries into war, the fact is that today's media due to its sheer global reach and the spin that it takes on each event, is pushing our soceities into reacting instantly to instant news and as can be imagined such instant reactions are often not well thought of and deliberated over.The media and the Net, in other words, is acting not JUST as an information provider and influencer, which it always has been, but also as an AMPLIFIER. The terrorists have understood this well. That is the reason Al Zawahari keeps releasing a video every few months. He knows that the media will pick it up and not only relay his deadly message but also AMPLIFY its true impact. He knows that this amplified message will push more people from the Centre to the Right, pushing them into a stance which would, in turn, make Muslims the world over feel more and more discriminated against, spawning more terror recruits.
Indeed, the time has come for us to focus more on the messenger and his message, than the actual event itself, if we have to make sense of why the world is shaping up as it is, today. It is almost scary to think that everyday world opinions are being shaped more by newspapers, The Net and most of all Television, than the actors and the actual events themselves. In the western world, the media is already controlled by a small clique' of giant corporations, who between themselves shape the opinions of the tiny section of the populace, which is elite. These corporations have a global reach and have often been accused of proselytizing than communicating, free marketism, western hegemony and Islamophobia, at a very subtle level. On the other hand, we have an Islamic media that though fragmented and small, is powerfully communicating the message of hate towards the western world. This section has successfully leveraged the power of the Net, to overcome its disadvantage of small reach via traditional physical distribution channels. These small groups of people who control the media on both sides of the fence are doing more than anyone else to influence today’s world.
In a recent interview on the BBC, the Dalai Lama was asked if he agreed with Bush's comments on Islamofascism. The Dalai Lama strongly rejected them, saying that only a small minority of extremist Muslims does not warrant castigation of the entire community and indeed the religion itself. He blamed the upsurge in intolerance, his eyes twinkling, on "mischievous elements in all religions and societies".
I am sure the “mischievous elements” he referred to are the morning newspaper or the Idiot Box.
You can skip to the end and leave a response.