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OP-ED: Hate no more

  • Published at 04:03 am October 18th, 2021
Kali mandir puja vandalism violence broken
File Photo: Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the attacks and the spreading of communal hatred on social media amid the Durga Puja, the largest festival of Hindus, this year Dhaka Tribune

Unfortunately, this is not the first time minorities have been attacked in our country

Since October 13, several videos of mob attacks on the mondirs and puja mondops in different parts of the country have appeared on social media. The attacks took place during the Durga Puja -- one of the major Hindu festivals. A few people were killed, and there are reports of rape and violence against women. 

There is a similar pattern in all attacks -- hundreds of people storming places of worship and vandalizing indiscriminately. They break in, create havoc, and leave. The pretext of such attacks is now known. They are taking revenge for insults to the holy script of Islam. They are thereby attacking and vandalizing places of Hindu worship, and as many as 70 puja mondops came under attack.

One video circulated on social media captured how horrifying it was for the people under attack. Some called their family and friends to vacate puja mondops and take refuge somewhere “safe.” Some expressed helplessness, saying: “The administration/police will do nothing now.” 

Unfortunately, it is not the first time this has happened in our country. Rather, similar attacks on minorities have become common. These are nothing short of hate crimes, and we are left wondering why some people hate so much.

Generally, we assume that hate develops when someone mistreats or humiliates others or deliberately obstructs others from achieving their goals. Indeed, similar feelings are partly represented by anger, disgust, contempt, revenge, etc, and all these arise when a person perceives that someone is immoral or evil.

Yet, contrarily, hate originates from a fixed perception about a person or group allegedly possessing negative characteristics. Thus, hatred is not the result of any specific action but arises from a belief about the innate nature of immorality of the hated person or group. Therefore, the attackers’ goal remains not only to hurt but to eliminate them socially or physically.

Hence, these attackers did not need to know the persons they hated at an intergroup level. Instead, people were attacked because of what they allegedly represented (religious or ethnic identity, for instance). So, it is not surprising that for an incident in Cumilla, attacks spurred all over the country.

Aristotle succinctly distinguished anger from hate. One may feel anger towards individuals, but a feeling of hatred is often felt towards groups. And hatred is usually based on the generalized attribution or essential traits and features of that group. We have seen that the alleged offensive or disrespectful act -- which might be an act of sabotage -- becomes less critical, and the whole community or group becomes a target of attacks. By generalizing the responsibility to a particular group, hatred is justified.

Most victims of the attacks did not do anything specific. Therefore, they are being attacked because of who they are and not for what they have done. This renders the victims powerless and puzzled about what they could have done differently to avoid the attacks or for what reasons they were attacked. Practically, they could do nothing that would have alleviated the situation -- as videos of pujas in the vandalized mondops or helplessness expressed in the incident described above reveal.

This intergroup dynamic is essential to take note of in such cases of hate crimes. For example, Levin and McDevitt (2008) distinguished between four types of hate crimes that relate to the situation in Bangladesh -- the offender’s motivations in hate crimes/attacks come from thrill, defence, retaliation, and mission. 

In mobs of hate attacks, there are some thrill-seeking persons -- some people participate in mobs for the sake of thrill or excitement. The second motivation of hate attacks or such mob participation is anger and fear -- usually as a defence mechanism. This type of crime is committed mainly by single persons who feel threatened -- but is an unlikely reason for these attacks on the minority Hindus in Bangladesh. 

Third, the retaliatory motivation of hate crimes arises from the desire to take revenge against previous hate crimes or terrorist attacks. For example, maybe some are motivated to attack Hindus because many Muslims face hate crimes in India and elsewhere. Finally, the last motivation for hate crimes is a mission; the perpetrators are on a moral mission to destroy others who are not considered equal humans -- possibly the prime reasons for these attacks.

These attacks date back many years. However, the recent upsurge is a manifestation of Samuel Huntington’s claim about the possible clash of civilizations in the contemporary world -- that the primary axis of conflict would be along cultural lines. The increase of hate crimes globally and intolerance against the plurality of beings indicate a scary future. 

The rise of the use of social media has been crucial in spreading hate enabling a worldwide audience. Moreover, it has made it easier for hate groups to hate-advocate. Unfortunately, the absence of punishment is also responsible for the current surge and signals to the victims that they deserve this fate. Additionally, the culture of impunity for such crimes emphasizes the justification of the hatred.

The matter is complex and deserves more attention. Ervin Staub (1989) argued that difficult life conditions such as severe economic problems, poverty, political, criminal, or institutional violence sometimes facilitate evil intentions leading to hate crimes. Blaming others increases in times of chaos and uncertainty and lays the basis for hatred towards groups in a society. And usually, the minority is seen as the cause of all problems.

Minorities of the country -- in terms of religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc -- who are the victims of hate crimes, are always blamed for inciting the violence by disrespectful, offensive, or insulting acts. 

Therefore, we must stand beside the people under attack and against all hate crimes.

Mohammad Tareq Hasan is an anthropologist and teaches at the University of Dhaka. Currently, he works as a research fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden University, the Netherlands.

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