Friday, October 18, 2013

We're All Fair And Balanced In Our Own Eyes

Non-Republicans laugh at the Fox News Channel's describing itself as "Fair & Balanced" and this slogan is the butt of endless Jon Stewart digs on The Daily Show.  But its hardcore audience laps up  the Fox News fare as gospel truth (an appropriately applicable term for this viewer demographic) and sees no irony.

Most of the world including many Muslims regard the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as destructive and fanatical operatives that are a blight to civilized society.  Yet these militants think of themselves as soldier-saints of Allah setting out to right society. 

Israeli rightwing nationalists feel it's entirely justified and reasonable for them to expand Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  And Iranian hardliners feel the same way about denying Israel's right to exist.

We all tend to see our own viewpoint as being right and those deviating from it - even if it's an overwhelming majority - as being wrong.  In her 2008 "Buried Prejudice: the Bigot in Your Brain" in Scientific American, Siri Carpenter describes how reported facts are filtered by our biases that are often shored up by self-interest.  "We are pre-disposed to ascribe superior characteristics to the groups to which we belong, and to exaggerate differences between our own groups and outsiders."  She goes on to quote studies showing that "many of our implicit associations about social groups form before we are old enough to consider them rationally... full fledged implicit racial bias emerges by age six - and never retreats."  This may also apply to religious bias.

This brings me again to my ongoing discussions about Muslims, with relatives and friends in India who are highly intelligent, fair minded and decent, even if we've different perspectives.  Some exchanges have been triggered by blog posts and popular forwarded emails I get from them.  They talk about secular politicians pandering to Indian Muslims, the destructive role of Islam and its meager contributions to humanity (measured by Nobel Prizes awarded to Muslims), etc.  Some others in my circle have been privately reacting to my June 27 post "Treating Our Indian Muslims Right".  Three examples below illustrate my disagreements with them:

a) An email doing the rounds glorifies Nathuram Godse, the Hindu assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, reproducing his supposed speech at his trial where he talks of Gandhi working against Hindus and favoring Muslims.  Those who forward it generally preface it with a disclaimer like "I don't agree with what Godse did or all he says, but he does have a point."  I personally am repelled at the killer of Gandhi, a disgrace to their Hindu community, sought to be partially rehabilitated through half rationalizations in this manner.  You'll find this Godse speech and reenactments all over on Google and on YouTube.  In viewer comments, Hindu zealots hailing Godse's murder of Gandhi outnumber those who deplore this by ten to one or worse.  At least this shows that bigotry abounds in all religions, and "pacifist" and "all-embracing" Hinduism isn't different in this aspect.

b) Some of my friends and relatives proclaim that "secular" in India means being "pro-Muslim" and reverse discriminating against Hindus in order to garner Muslim votes en bloc. A friend in his blog uses the phrase "secular fundamentalists" to describe secular politicians. He says that "secular" in their dictionary means being contemptuous of their own (Hindu) religion and being obsessed with that of another minority, the Muslims.  I pointed out that the Muslim vote bank (14.5% of the population) is much smaller than the Hindu vote bank (80% of population) that would be put off by such a bias.  The friend countered that Hindus are too fragmented and turn out in smaller percentages, so wooing Muslims this way still makes sense to these politicians. 

Well, UP is India's most populous state where the Muzaffarnagar Hindu-Muslim riots recently occurred. I see from UP 2012 election results that the winning Samajwadi Party got 34% of the votes, and secular BSP and Congress got 24% and 12% respectively.  In other words the secular parties combined had about 70% of the vote, and given that Muslims comprise 18% of UP's population, the other 52% of their supporters have to be primarily Hindus. You'd hardly expect such support from Hindus for a party that discriminated against them. In any case it's much easier to cast lots with a dominant majority and stronger side.  While corruption, inefficiency and infighting may justifiably sink them, we should at least credit secular parties with  fair-mindedness and courage for trying to level the field for minorities.

c) An otherwise saintly elder relative in India echoed a sentiment in our circle when he said, "If you see Muslims on TV they are so aggressive (while seeking rights and denouncing oppression).  Can Hindus raise their voice in Pakistan and other Muslim countries?"  I on the contrary expect Muslims to freely express their justified indignation at being targeted in riots on account of their religion.  Moreover, I'd hate to see Muslims in India treated the way less tolerant countries treat their minorities, including Hindus.  That's what makes India's secularism and inclusiveness so much better than the ethos in those other countries.

Of course, being "truly" fair and balanced should be just one of the major factors for voters everywhere, including Indians.  Given the widespread corruption, stifling bureaucracy and ineptness that permeates the present Congress government in India, I'd agree with its detractors that it should be replaced.  The clear frontrunner to lead a new Indian government is Narendra Modi of the BJP, the Hindu-centric opposition party.  Modi has developed a solid record and reputation as an able and incorruptible administrator as Chief Minister of Gujarat State which has made remarkable progress in his 12 year tenure. Widespread accusations of his involvement in the deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots have never been proved and he has protested his innocence and made numerous overtures and reassurances to Muslims recently.  So I'd give him the benefit of the doubt and cautiously favor his election, especially if other alternatives like the well regarded Nitish Kumar of Bihar are not nationally viable. But unlike Modi's BJP supporters, my choice would be based purely on economic and administrative grounds, and in spite of, not because of his RSS / Hindutva roots.



AmOK said...

He was involved. The leader has to take responsibility and not glory alone. Don't forget his Chappaquiddick. Of course you are giving him the benefit of doubt. Something even a Kennedy did not get.

AmOK said...

And yes this:arundhati roy

Sandip Madan said...

Are Arundhati's assertions of Modi's misdeeds founded on established facts, or are these unproven allegations? Gujarat hasn't had major anti-Muslim upheavals after 2002, I believe. Though this could be attributed to Muslims being completely cowed into submission or genuine fairness and even-handed control on Modi's part...

AmOK said...

The mentality behind the 1984 anti Sikh pogroms continues to exist in many forms. Cowed is about right. Modi has a long road to secularism. I expect Roy is much more knowledgeable about the situation than many of us. As for proven vs unproven. There are holocaust deniers to this day. Nazis have been Jewish supporters since WWII, you say, since no recurrence of the holocaust?

Sandip Madan said...

Eloquently put even if to me these cases aren't comparable. :-) The Holocaust was proven in Nuremberg court trials and international forums. Its denial is a crime in many countries and deplored in the world community. Nazis haven't been in power after 1945 so they couldn't have done more damage.

That's very different from Modi's post-riots grip on Gujarat till today, and he hasn't been proven guilty by any court or official commission. Arundhati is a known political activist with anti-BJP bias so I cannot simply believe her vivid stories asserting Modi's role without her citing proof. So to me Modi's role remains indeterminate.

AmOK said...

Yes - he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the Sikhs in 1984 and the affected Muslims and Hindus in 2002. Fellow-victims of circumstance. No power, no control. Should he become Prime Minister of India, he could continue his trajectory of glory and no-fault leadership. Accountability is a hard thing to accept.

Avay Shukla said...

Its self-evident that Mr. AMOK has litle knowledge of legal developments in India re. Modi's involvement in the 2002 riots.Its investigation is being personally monitored by the Supreme Court which has so far set up 3 SITs( Spl Investigation teams). ALL of them have found no evidence against Modi, though more than 200 people have been convicted and sentenced.And all this under a central govt.which would( and is) doing everything to put Modi in jail!AMOK can certainly do better than base his canard on Arundhati Roy"s say so: yes, she is intelligent and no one can doubt her commitment to any cause she picks up, but her mind is as closed as a govt. office on a weekend, and she loses objectivity.

AmOK said...

Mr. Shukla and I differ on what we expect from our leaders. The
defense is not suitable for a Chief Minister. It happened on Modi's watch. He is dodging the responsibility.