Get out of ‘my country’ syndrome

by John Samuel | Published: 01:00, Mar 03,2017


Alok Madasani and his wife Reepthi Gangula at the candlelight vigil for Sreenivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kansas. — Reuters

TWO days ago, two young engineers from India were shot in a pub in Kansas City in the US. These two engineers, Sreenivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madaasani, both in their early thirties, went to the US to fulfil their American dreams. Excellent opportunity for higher studies. Well paying jobs and comfortable life in the rich and powerful country of the world. Sreenivas died. And Alok is recovering. Adam Puriton, 51, reportedly, shouted at them ‘Get out of my country’ before shooting them. This is not the first time such a hate crime or crime against perceived ‘intruders’ happening in the USA or in the world. This will not be the last time too. This is not only happening in the USA. This also happened in India against people of African origin last year in two cities of India. In 2016 May-June, Congolese national Masonda Ketada Olivier was beaten to death in Vasant Kunj in Delhi and four cases of attacks on African nationals were reported from the twin villages of Rajpur Khurd and Maidan Garhi. There are such attacks in different countries .On 21 July, 2011, 32 year old Anders Breivik, killed 77 young people participating in a youth leadership camp on Utoya Island, near Oslo. Breivik was known for his xenophobia and islamophobia and racism. His proclaimed aim was to clean Europe from all migrant communities from other parts of the world.

While such attacks are often perceived as ‘isolated events’ that happen once in a while, the key issue is that explicit violence against a person who does not look like ‘us’ is also symptom of an implicit sense of violence that begin to happen in the very mindset of many people in many parts of the world. The real act of violence may not be that frequent. However, what is more important is the social psychology that prompted such violence.
The notion of nation-state is relatively new in the history of the institutionalised politics. While the idea was established few hundred years ago, the nation-state as we know now are relatively new entities emerged in the 19th or 20th century. A large number of them emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War. In the making of the nation-states, identity based on language, religion, ethnicity etc play a very crucial role. In most of the countries, the ‘nationality’ is often dominated by a majority identity based on race, religion, or language. Such dominant identity is partly a socio-political perception that gives rise to a given social psychology of identity of an ‘in group’ and ‘out-group’ mindset. In fact, India is the only nation-state with a wide range of diverse identities of language, religion, caste and creed tied up together as a more pan-Indian nationality formation. Precisely due to this the very idea of India is built on diversity and pluralism as it is the most diverse nation-state on this planet.
In many countries, while constitution and law provide equality, rule of law and justice, the very idea of ‘identity’ clashes is based on the primordial ideas of ‘in-group’ vs ‘out group’. The notion ‘in-group’ vs ‘out-group’ is often based on colour, race, tribal identity, religion or language. This ‘outsider’ idea gets entrenched in the social psychology of many communities and even nationalities. Often these perceptions are implicit and even unconscious. Such perceptions about ‘outsider’ often get formed in the childhood from home or even neighbourhood. The entrenched prejudices against gender, caste, race, religion or even language get formed from the primary community of socialisation. This pride and prejudices of dominant identity gets transformed in to subtle, implicit or explicit forms of exclusion, discrimination and eventually hate. In many ways, violence in action is a symptom of the larger violence in thinking and words.
Violence in thoughts and words are also a sign of deep insecurity about the perceived ‘other’. And perceived ‘other’ is seen as a ‘suspect’ out to take away ‘my’ space, resources, and terrain. Within a given political dispensation, when a large number of people feel deprived or at the receiving end of inequality or injustice from the government or from elites of the majoritarian community, then the easiest way is to externalise the enemy by pointing out to a numerically minority community doing well in terms of education and achievement. That is what the proponents of politics of exclusions do. It is such insecurity emanating from inequality harnessed in to the politics against the ‘other.’
Demagogues devoid of a vision of long term of politics or change, often exploit the insecurity of large section of people due to economic inequality and relative deprivation. Such politicians transform these insecurities by invention a perceived ‘other’ (outsider/intruder) and ‘enemies’ of the nation. And then transform the insecurities of the people in to a ‘pride’ of nation and ‘patriotism’ of the nation-state. And any others who happened to be ‘outside’ this dominant pride-prejudice paradigm get projected as the ‘outsider’ or ‘intruder’. This ‘outsider’/‘intruder’ mindset is prevalent in many communities and countries across the world in different degrees. And politicians often play on these ‘sentiments’ to get more votes and ‘legitimacy’ for their efforts to capture ‘state power’ through a mix of consensus and coercion. This is what is happening in many parts of the world. This is the dominant modes of politics that is played in India a, in many parts of Europe, and now in the US too. This ascend of Trump is based on this notion of ‘in-group’ vs ‘out-group’ and politics of exclusion.
The issue is that when such ideas of ‘in-group’ of ‘us’ vs the ‘out-group’ get legitimised implicitly or explicitly by the leader of a nation-state, those with entrenched pride and prejudice against a race, or community may get embolden to invoke violence as a form of their own catharsis. Such people often get conditioned to blame their own failure and frustration on the immediate ‘other’.
Demagogues often create the political and cultural conditions to distract the attention from his/her lapses by pointing fingers on the constructed ‘other’ (the intruder/outsider). This constant process of ‘othering’ is basis of the politics of exclusion. The very idea and core of politics of exclusion is based on pride of a dominant identity and prejudice against the ‘other.’ Hence, politics of exclusion is inherently a politics of violence. Such politics of exclusion get transformed in to a social psychology and politics of hate. While a large number of people may nurture such hate based on race, religion, caste or creed, only few people get in to actual violent mode of annihilating those at the receiving end of hatred.
The idea of human rights emerged against all kinds of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion region, language, or nationality. This was partly to counter the tendency of politics of exclusion based on the ‘othering’ and violence against minority and migrant communities. Such a framework of human rights is based on a universal framework on human dignity, equality human persons, and freedom of life, expression, belief, assembly and movement. To a large extent human rights and rule of law became the two important restraints that helped the world to achieve a sense of sanity in managing the boundaries of politics and power.
However, a new breed of populist authoritarian demagogues thrives on politics of exclusion, deriving their legitimacy from majoritarian politics. Their variety of majoritarianism undermines principles and practice of human rights. Anyone who questions them is told to ‘get out of ‘my’ country.’ This mindset gets spread very fast among a significant section of people as a part of their own constructed mindset.
The very politics of Trump was based on this ‘outsiders’. He wanted to construct walls and not bridges. When such politics get legitimised, it emboldens many to practice the violence that their leaders preached. This is what killed many writers, rationalists in India. It is this mindset that makes the foot soldiers of the leader to tell anyone who question the government to ‘go to Pakistan’ or ‘to get ‘out’ of my country.
The problem is that the proponents of the majoritarian politics often do not realise that majority population of a given country can be ‘migrant workers’ and ‘minorities’ and ‘outsiders’ in another country. Those who pride about their caste status can simply be another Indian migrant worker in Europe or the United States. Those who feel passionately patriotic about India may be discriminated against another country. In a globalised world one can keep changing the locations of ‘power’. The one who feel proud and powerful in a given country can be at the receiving end of another kind of pride and prejudice.
It is the politics of exclusion and hate that create conditions of violence. And this is precisely get transformed in to hate crime giving rise to the ‘get out of my country’ syndrome, prevalent in many parts of the world. It is also indicative of a politics of new insecurities in a more globalised world. Such insecurities are beginning to form a new form of protectionism in terms of economy, society and culture. And this protectionism is also a symptom of backlash against economic and social globalisation.
Get out of ‘my’ country Syndrome is a sign of new tribalism of pride-prejudice, totem and taboo. The old primordial politics of violence is beginning to unfold in multiple ways in different countries. It is precisely because of this that we need to discover a new language and sensibility of politics of inclusion based on human dignity, liberty and fraternity. We need to reboot politics in countries and across the world to move beyond the prevalent politics of exclusion and hate. We need to reinvent a politics based the value of love, share and care for all human beings across the world.

John Samuel is executive director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia).

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