Authoritarianism is the Pandemic; Dissent is the Vaccine
The United States of America is burning with rage. The flames in the US are difficult to contain for many reasons. The US enjoys freedom of expression. Their institutions of checks and balances on the state’s power are visibly way taller than ours. Their people felt deeply outraged when a minority black citizen was killed by the state. For them, freedom, justice and equality are more important than protecting their own lives from a deadly pandemic that has devastated the country.
After police excesses against Jamia students in December, we saw a similar popular and peaceful uproar but “What about the burning bus?” prevailed over their agony. The people of the US will not rally behind the white police officer who killed George Floyd. They won’t shout “Police Zindabad”, Trump Ji lath bajao, hum tumhare saath hai” or “Kisko chahiye aazdi, hum dene aaye aazadi, Floyd ko dedi Aazadi”. Basic civil decency is still a significant part of their deeply charged and divided political culture.
Trump threatened the protestors with shooting. The police chief called him out. Trump threatened to crush the protests using the army. The head of armed forces reminded him that they have pledged allegiance to the constitution. The immense media flak and criticism following POTUS’s rash reaction demonstrates where the public sentiment lies. Strangely, Trump received huge support from the BJP IT cell in India.
Controversial BJP lawmaker Kapil Mishra asked the good Sarmatians in the US to come forward and “non-violently” stop the protestors. Recently, he made a similar call in north-east Delhi after which dozens of people, mostly Muslims, were killed by violent mobs. One of the victims, 23-year-old Faizan, was allegedly killed by the Delhi police. In a video that went viral, cops can be seen hitting Faizan and other Muslim men and forcing them to sing the the National anthem. We don’t even have a word of mourning for Faizan. Instead, calls to protest hate crimes and stand for minorities in India have been portrayed as incitement to violence. Veteran Journalist Vinod Dua and Former Amnesty Chief Aakar Patel have been slapped with FIRs.
Trump blamed the violence on a far-left group called Antifa (Their Tukde Tukde gang). Trump took to Twitter and announced that he will ban Antifa (Anti-Fascists) under domestic terror. Antifa is not a physical organisation. It does not have a leader, head-quarter or recruitment system. Trump supporters and right-wing media pushed his accusation as the gospel truth.
Until now, the world saw rival nations as their most formidable enemies. Recently, the focus has shifted to internal enemies, particularly in populist regimes. In the age of Post-truth, our understanding of the “nation’s enemy” has gone through a radical shift. Every ultra-nationalist leader and the politically divided people are on the lookout for internal traitors these days. The “war on terror” is now a war on “Jaichands”.
This ‘war on dissent’ is not limited to the US. Writer Arundhati Roy aptly notes that unlike the United States, where democratic institutions and civil society is robust to rein in Trump, India and others do not enjoy that privilege. In the US, one may not take Trump’s undermining of Democracy, constant vilification of rivals, media and state institutions as liars and traitors quite seriously but elsewhere, the same threat is extremely formidable. Brutal ultra-nationalist regimes across the globe are accused of constantly vilifying and smashing internal enemies under the garb of national security. Some of these nations like Brazil, Turkey and India show uncanny similarities in their crushing of dissent.
Nobody is a fascist when everybody is a fascist. We do not know what the future beholds. What we know is that the pandemic has fastened the state’s grip on people’s freedom. Economies are paralysed; protectionist tide is on the rise. The word of international community holds little weight, as economic interdependence, trade, and international migration has come to a cruel halt.
Frightened, suspicious and helpless citizens are looking at the state for refuge. States in turn, have demanded people to sacrifice their freedom and reason. Nations are closing down for immigrants and higher fences are being erected on the borders. Many jobs have become irrelevant and we have the worst unemployment figures in decades. In the coming days, artificial intelligence will take more jobs rendering huge populations discardable. Also, never have so many people been online simultaneously leading to escalating state surveillance and singling out of those who do not fall in line. Many new ‘thought criminals’ are under the lens of the Big brother.
In times as harsh as these, we have only one little flicker of hope. As long as we continue to commit ‘thought crimes’ for freedom, our hope shall stay alive. Ultimately, the troll armies, propaganda machinery, and snarling dogs of the state, unleashed to maul dissent will get so severely vicious that they will start biting their own masters. This chaotic world order will succumb to its inflamed narrowness. Humans cannot live with the puss of hatred and division in their hearts for a long time. Until then, we have to continue to look at these flames of revolt with hope, no matter how seditious the gleam in our eyes appear.