Denouement of Verbal Extremism
The mass killings in Norway – by a single gunman in a climate of hate created by politicians that the government of the day was not dealing condignly with immigrants in general and Muslim immigrants in particular – brought to my mind a debate in which I participated three years ago.
In Norway, 32-year-old Anders Breivik revealed that he wanted to punish “enablers of Islamization” for their “treasonable acts.” The “enablers” were the politicians that had accepted “multiculturalism” as the model of cultural integration for Europe, which was “treasonable” because the “Christian character” would be altered. Those targeted were perceived supporters of the government’s policies.
In Guyana the debate involved opposition elements that insisted the PPP government was a fascist, racist, “elected dictatorship” and that the party supporters, who are generally Indians, were directly responsible for the claimed excesses of the government. As in Norway, it was not simply a matter of two sides of the political divide taking opposing stands over an issue, it was the way the opposition framed their argument: they defined their opponents as traitors and worse. I still fear that it will be only a matter of time that individuals buying their argument would decide to take matter in their own hands.
As I noted then, “Analyses of social phenomena, by their very nature, suggest strategies of action for the citizenry. In a country where some have launched violent attacks on citizens and state, care should be taken when an analysis may justify such strategies for regime change.” A year later I elaborated on the narratives of hate that, as in today’s Europe, characterised the opposition’s political polemics: In times of heightened tension and conflict, narratives and discourses link individual and group identity, producing a sense of intertwined fate among groups. When violence is in the air, the fears also include concern for physical security and fears of extinction of self, family, and the group and its culture. Political actions – and reactions – are therefore highly influenced by the dominant discourses circulating at any given time…
(The opposition and their acolytes) defined themselves as fighting for democracy, freedom of speech, justice, workers rights and presumably, motherhood (good qualities). In contrast, in virtually every speech and article about the PPP, they declared the PPP was “fascist” – Hitler, killer of 6 million Jews is invoked; was committing economic “genocide” against Africans – invoking millions genocidally murdered in Rwanda and the Congo; perverted; corrupt, violent etc.
In this discourse, Guyana was in mortal conflict between good and evil and that evil was real, and must be opposed. Acutely entrenched in our historic binary socio-religious discourses of “us” and “them”, this kind of polemic serves to essentialize the PPP and their supporters as satanic and morally corrupt.
Critically, this framing locates evil in the nature of the PPP – and by extension, their supporters - thereby stigmatizing a whole category of people. Not to mention putting them at risk in an atmosphere dominated by a discourse of “us” against “them” and a history of political violence.
The “complicity” of the Indian supporter for the sins of the PPP is made explicitly by (one columnist). He capriciously conferred the ultimate accolade in the discourse of Guyanese politics – being “truly” multi-racial – on (the party he supported); determined that Indians had not voted for them in 2006 and therefore unlike Africans, had displayed “racial preference”. (Yet the AFC is “multiethnic” – go figure.)To reinforce the Indian’s culpability, (the columnist) gloats that whenever an Indian mentions some problem with officialdom, he demands:
“Well, who did you vote for?” It is a compelling discourse and an act of demagoguery that vitiates the actions of the PPP and their supporters of any political content by de-contextualizing and de-historicizing them. They are simultaneously de-humanized and de-personalized. What justification, ultimately, can be offered for ‘acts of evil’? The wages of sin, I am told, is death. In other words, holding that the PPP and their supporters are by nature evil (and racist to boot) rather than ordinary people, it is not difficult to see how attacks against them can become normalized.”
The columnist had once asked, in exculpation for his hate-filled ranting, as to whether the government may not also be out of line. But don’t we have the sanctions of elections to “manners” them?
In Norway, because of the hate-filled, extremist discourse of the anti-immigrant politicians, an evidently educated individual, because of his “concern for physical security and fears of extinction of self, family, and the group and its culture” killed over seventy innocent men, women and children, just to place his concerns on the national agenda.
It is my hope that we do not arrive at this pass in Guyana, because of the few that express their ressentiment through verbal extremism.