Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Victims, Tormentors & Schools

What is it that turns erstwhile victims into tormentors? This is a question that has often crossed my mind whenever I read about caste-politics or the Hindutva diatribe in India, the treatment of Palestinians by Israel or the Roma`s in Europe.

In India there seems to have emerged an entirely new `super` class of people who, having benefited from the affirmative-action policies for over 50 years, are not only loath to give up their privileges but also actively discriminate against communities that are worse off than their own. Similarly, the Israel-Palestine problem seems less of an international dispute than a caste-conflict that blew out of control. Once you get what you always wanted, its your turn to kick the ladder and prevent others from climbing up.

The irony here is that the erstwhile victims - the new `super` castes in India, Jews of pre-war Europe and Russia, Romanians & Bulgarians freed from Nazi occupation - employ exactly the same methods used by their former tormentors. Pick a label that suits your convenience - `thiefs`, `vermin`, `rats`, `traitors` - and then use it to tar an entire group of people, then push them to the `other` side. Once they are living out of sight beyond high walls, in restricted quarters or cramped ghettos, deprive them of  basic necessities until they fit your label of choice and then, the only final solution that remains, is to get rid of them all.

In the book `Maus`, Art Spiegelman illustrates the harrowing story of his father, a Polish jew, during the second World War. Forced out of his comfortable middle class existence into ghettos first and then into the death camps of Auschwitz/Birkenau, he manages to survive it all and then migrate to USA. And once there, he has no qualms about viewing American blacks exactly the same way the Nazis saw the Jews - only the label is different. To him every colored guy is a `Shvartser`, fit to be treated as thieves and scoundrels.

Perhaps a part of the answer to this question lies their renewed insecurities and a desperate instinct for survival. To an erstwhile victim, their own survival is proof enough that nobody is to be trusted. To quote Prof. Amos Oz, a self-proclaimed Judeo-Nazi:

I want to survive. And my intention happens to be that my children will survive, too. With or without the blessing of the Pope and assorted Torah sages from the New York Times. If anyone raises a hand against my children, I'll destroy him - and his children - with or without your vaunted 'purity of arms.'. And I don't give a damn if he's a Christian or a Moslem or a Jew or a pagan. Throughout history, anyone who thought he was above killing got killed. It's an iron-clad law.

Tell me yourself, do the bad guys really have it so bad in the world? Do they lack for anything? If anybody tries to lay a finger on them, they cut off his arms and legs. And sometimes they do the same for people who haven't even tried anything. If they feel like eating something, and they can catch it and kill it, that's what they do. And they don't suffer an upset stomach afterward or any divine retribution. So from here on in, I want Israel to be a member of this club. Congratulations! Maybe the world will finally begin to fear me instead of feeling sorry for me.

...When you're fighting for survival, anything goes. Even what's forbidden is allowed...a people that let itself be slaughtered and destroyed, a people that let its children be made into soap and its women into lampshades, is a worse criminal than its tormentors. Worse than the Nazis. To live without fists, without fangs and claws, in a world of wolves is a crime worse than murder.

...It's a crying shame - we could have put all that behind us and by now become a normal nation with prissy values, with humanistic neighborly relations with Iraq and Egypt, and with a slight criminal record - just like everybody else. Like the English and the French and the Germans and the Americans - who've already managed to forget what they did to the Indians - and the Australians, who almost totally eliminated the aborigines. They've all done it. What's the big deal? What's so terrible about being a civilized people, respectable, with a slight criminal past? It happens in the best of families.

The rhetoric is disturbing...but  it makes some sense when you examine it in the context of  New York 9/11 and Mumbai 26/11. Yet, it makes you wonder if the problem is being blown out of proportion. After all, how far you can push this siege mentality across generations? What would have happened if Mandela too was convinced that it was a crime to `live without fists, without fangs and claws, in a world of wolves`?

Any which way you look at it, the only long-term solution to divisive politics seems to be the vigorous implementation of an Ethnic Integration Policy, as is being done by Singapore Housing & Development Board. Children of diverse backgrounds, who grow up together, seem a lot less likely to join the ranks of suicidal jihadists, jingoists and other assorted, disgruntled radicals.


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