A mob stormed the US Capitol on December 6. This seemed to be shocking to many Americans, including the media, who referred to the chaos unleashed in DC as an aberration that happens in ‘banana republics’, or an assault on democracy. This reflects a wilful ignorance of US domestic history, and the US role in causing such chaos and violence around the world. American politicians on both sides of the aisle and mainstream media have been complicit in their refusal to call out white supremacy and fascistic tendencies in large parts of the population for years.
It’s no surprise to people of colour (POC) in the US that a large group of white protesters will not be perceived as a threat and will be accorded a benefit of the doubt. Even as there were coordinated runs on Federal buildings in multiple states, arrests were few and law enforcement almost nonexistent. Conversely, BLM protesters were called rioters and violently attacked, and threatened with over 10 years in prison for being near any destruction of property. Anti-fascists are terrorists while these domestic terrorists are “American Patriots”. This is the clearest sign that law enforcement does not need de-escalation training, they know how not to use deadly force if the people across from them are not POC. The officer who shot the only protesting casualty, a former air-force veteran, was suspended immediately — something that is seldom seen when the victims are POC.
White Americans have been fed a steady diet through media and politicians of a war on Christmas, the takeover of the US by immigrants, political correctness being an assault on their right of free speech, and black and brown bodies being an imminent threat to their physical and economic security. They have voted against their own interests on issues of healthcare, social services, education, and securitisation partly because of the fear mongering of politicians who use them for their own ends. This should all be very familiar to Pakistanis.
While the US is unique in its relationship with its racial and religious minorities, Pakistan should take this moment to reflect on its own similar trajectory which has fed religiously and ethnically motivated violence. The country’s Sunni majority has been led to believe they are under attack, that the protection and rights of our minority citizens would somehow diminish them. This has been a long time coming with each political entity after Pakistan’s founding pandering to the religious right to get their support. The religiously motivated sectarian groups that have been nurtured and bred by those in power have caused much mayhem. Hundreds of Hazara, for example, have become victims of such violence over the past 20 years.
Myopic ideologies and insecurities can be mitigated by a recognition of the failings of the state, and by the introduction of policies enacted to correct those failings. In the US, this means healthcare reform, criminal justice reform, investing in communities instead of the security state, and adequate justice for those who have perpetuated and incited violence particularly against POC.
In Pakistan, the use of religious rhetoric and sectarian groups to further political aims should be stopped. There is need to go after those who incite violence in the name of religion, and make our minorities feel safer. Unfortunately, critical thinking has been pushed away in many Muslim countries including Pakistan because it does not suit the powers that be.
Economic and social inequality makes people easy prey to right-wing ideologies. Without critical thinking and real reform for social justice, violence will continue to find opportunities to erupt.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2021.