IN the global growing atmosphere of increasing hate speech, the lines are more blurred now than they have historically been.
Gone are the days of leaders and politicians taking to the pulpit to openly condemn any one group as the root of all national problems and calling for their removal – the days of the Hitler-esque approach are thankfully over – but the hate is still there and being disseminated in just as an effective and possibly more pervasive manner.
More sophisticated methods are used these days by those seeking power to garner support and curry favour with a particular demographic, methods that ultimately absolve them of any direct responsibility should hate crimes occur.
A “network” of hate is being cultivated to spread the message using multiple actors such as paid media, paid “experts”, party funders, extremist groups and junior politicians, as has been seen in a number of cases in Asia and across the globe.
“Multiple actors produce a climate of rising intolerance in an uncoordinated but mutually reinforcing way,” Cherian George, associate professor of journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University and author of Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy, told Asian Correspondent.
George makes the point politicians and officials will often make “sober statements” that “may not sound extreme in isolation.” The problem arises when those vague suggestions are “then seized upon by hardline vigilante groups as justification for violent attacks on religious minorities,” as has been seen in Indonesia recently.
The discrimination against minority religions in the predominantly Muslim nation has been mounting of late, and was underlined in the case of Chinese Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is currently on trial for blasphemy for allegedly insulting Islam.
Ahok and his supporters claim the allegation was orchestrated by political opponents to sabotage his election campaign.
The accusations of blasphemy were pounced on by hardline Islamic groups who took action, leaving politicians to step back and simply allow the outrage to continue.
A number of rallies were organised by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in the capital Jakarta demanding Ahok be prosecuted or even lynched. Hundreds of thousands of participants attended the rallies despite many not knowing specifically what Ahok had said or done.
Analysts also saw the furore over Ahok’s remarks as an attempt to weaken President Joko Widodo, a key ally of the governor who is expected to seek a second term in 2019, but it is almost impossible to prove this.
“The irrational mob element is a resource that can be deployed by politicians against their opponents,” George said.
“All these connections are not formal, making it difficult to hold any single leader accountable when hate crimes happen.”
The same can be said of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s use of “lieutenants” to spread the most extreme versions of Islamophobia.
MPs such as BJP member Yogi Adityanath have been vocal critics of the Muslim community in the further reaches of the country. Adityanath even voiced his support for US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on Muslim majority countries and called for similar action in India, a country in which over 14 percent of the population are Muslim.
The BJP’s anti-Muslim stance was proven effective in the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh – a province with a sizeable Muslim population – in which BJP enjoyed a resounding victory.
The anti-Muslim message was used to unite Hindu voters against a common concern. A message was successfully transmitted through a number of channels the majority community of Hindu’s was under siege and that the BJP, under Modi’s leadership, was the only party that could see to it that the community’s interests were defended and its values preserved.
“The BJP negated Muslim votes through smart social engineering and polarisation,” said Zafarul Islam Khan former president of All India Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the top forum of Muslim organisations and institutions in the country.
“The victory of BJP signals triumph of hate and is not good news for Indian democracy.”
The temptation to turn to stoking division to gain popularity can often seem all too enticing to those seeking power.
“Ethnic and religious identity is a potent resource for anyone who is hungry for power and unscrupulous about how he gains it,” George says.
Rather than take the “honest but difficult” route of developing reasoned arguments and effective policies that will win voters over, many will chose the “dishonest and expedient” method of making appeals based on identity and the idea of the “other”.
And, according to George, “there’s no shortage of politicians who choose this route despite the disastrous long-term costs.”