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ISIS, the American Right, and Hindutva

Parthiv N. Parekh Email Parthiv N. Parekh
December 2015
ISIS, the American Right, and Hindutva

There is no reward for guessing what it is that ties the three phenomena mentioned above: Extremism.

Granted, it is fair to acknowledge that there may be a difference of degrees. Neither right-wingers in America nor Hindu extremists have stooped (yet!) to the crude and nihilistic methods of Islamic fundamentalists who have abandoned all semblance of humanity. It takes a special kind of depravity and delusion to gun down innocent civilians—men, women, and children—in abject cold blood, and to do it with alarming frequency so as to have entire human civilizations on the edge. And then have the gall to believe that you are doing it for God!

And yet, I am not sure if right-wingers in the West can, therefore, claim any superiority and deride the “culture of death” of Islamic fundamentalists. You can’t first fund and arm fanatics and dictators like Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussain, and yes, ISIS too (!), and then turn around and feign disgust at the “culture of death” that these shady characters unleash. After all it was you who propped up, funded, supplied arms to, and promoted these very people who you now shout out as devils incarnate. Also, I am not sure if, from a higher realm, the culpability is any less when you let your government do the ugly deed of killing innocent civilians—men, women, and children—by carpet bombing entire swaths of human population…all the while watching it on TV, with perhaps a beer in hand.

If the Hindu extremists are taking comfort in the fact that they neither bomb nor gun down innocent people, may they be reminded that violence is not only of the physical kind. The violence of flexing muscle, bullying a minority, mob mentality, lynching, denying equal nationality to minorities, treating them as the perennial pariah in their own motherland, and fracturing the nation along communal lines, may not compare to the soulless vulgarity of wholesale gunning down or bombing of civilians—but that doesn’t make it pure and innocent either. After all, these are the actions that can eventually disintegrate into civil wars and even genocides.

Of course each group has their own rationale for doing what they are doing. Each believes they are only reacting and retaliating to the “other.” The sad irony is that all three, and for that matter extremists of any kind anywhere, see themselves as righteous, morally superior, and God’s chosen ones. It doesn’t take much intelligence to see that the only natural consequence of such extremism which is cocksure of its inculpability, superiority, and divinity, is the need and the want to annihilate the “other,” who “obviously” is on the wrong side. So is there a way out? Only if each one of us is willing to acknowledge and face our own extremism. The problem is that extremists don’t see themselves as extremists. So here’s a litmus test, if one is willing: If you see the “other” as the root cause of the problem and yourself as the innocent and righteous one, you are an extremist—at least in terms of being a part of the problem rather than being a part of the solution.

The fact is, human existence, and the transactional dynamics of religions, cultures, nations, and commerce is so endlessly complex and interdependent that it is beyond the scope of human intellect to really grasp all the nuances of what’s going on. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see Internet trolls (or even the well-meaning, courteous ones) who have it all figured out: “We, good; they, evil!”

It doesn’t matter how prolific a consumer you are of news, media, op-eds, pundits, scholars, books, etc., or how well-travelled you are, or whether you have spent a lifetime studying a group or a phenomenon. When it comes to pegging cause and effect of global conflicts, any cast-in-stone conclusions are bound to be off-base. That’s because reality is too complex, multilayered, and constantly shifting to fit into neat conclusions. At best we can put up informed conjectures that may or may not have some semblance of truth.

And for that, we are willing to take an eye for an eye—till the whole world goes blind? If we don’t turn the tide and reverse this extremism, we could be headed toward a bonfire of planet earth.

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