Conquer your own bigotry!

It happens again. Few months ago, it was Westminster attack. Now, the latest Manchester tragedy takes our hearts away and puzzles us with myriad questions on how to tame this killer instinct. 

For those who belong to the alt-right establishment, there is this tendency of blaming this kind of tragedy to the problem of multiculturalism. Meanwhile, those who do not succumb to the bigotry and cultural superiority adamantly limit the atrocity to the wickedness of a perpetrator who didn’t even bother to embrace his religion adequately. Back in March, The Independent published the confession of a former landlady who told the paper that the Westminster attacker, Khalid Masood, was a ‘madman’ and ‘not a proper Muslim’.

Again, this is in direct contrast with those who say that this kind of brutality interlinks with the policy of immigration. However, those who steadfastly retain their objectivity would say that this incident cannot justify the propagation of politics of closed doors that even furthers the rift and serves as divertissement from ‘elements of national life that really do threaten society’s basic functioning’, such as ‘appalling shortage of housing’ or ‘inhumane benefits system’ (John Harris’s piece in The Guardian, 03/24).

What we often choose to be intentionally oblivious of is the fact that religion, any religion indeed (from Christianity that promotes the culture of love to Buddhism’s nonviolence), has been also historically used to disseminate the message of bad news and promote the culture of death. This is not to say that religious doctrines are completely free of elements of violence, as biblical stories also give clear pictures of how violence is used to discipline those who are different and awry. However, irrespective of this fact, blaming a particular religious group and its doctrine in the event of a crime committed by one person is ridiculously unfair.

In the wake of the Westminster attack, Bishop David Urquhart of Birmingham clearly objects to this trait and says: “We completely reject any attempt to see an opportunity of blaming a particular widespread community group, or faith, or any other community in this city for the perverted actions of an individual” (The New Statesman, 03/29).

The presence of those who are clear-headed and bigotry-free amid this kind of sensitive issue is truly uplifting. Visions they share could rock the boat, including our political ‘boat’ here in Jakarta. In the run-up to the last gubernatorial election and its aftermath, myriad of hate preachers inundated our neighborhoods with their typical message: demonization of non-Muslim candidate. The plenitude of this message might seduce us into thinking that these hate preachers rightfully represent the whole community as well as the only rightful interpretation of religious doctrine. This is not true, since there are people, intellectuals and average citizens alike, who bear different message that backs up the noble idea of plurality and governance by political virtues of justice, truth and fairness, instead of the religion-based uniformity.

For those who are non-Muslims, we should keep in mind that what those hate preachers have given us is a spurious picture of Islam. These are alt-right religious people whose intention will be well served when we gobble up their flawed arguments and accordingly prepare our payback. Furthermore, encapsulating ourselves in self-righteousness and binary mentality (“they are bad” and “we are good”) only amplifies negativity and engulfs our political space with things we would like to repeal in the first place: hatred, bigotry and religious superiority.

We should realize that by letting all these negatives creep in, we let wicked thoughts rule our worldview and poison our potential for goodness. And this is terribly dangerous. When delivering his eulogy for the Québec mosque shooting victims, Imam Hassan Guillet spoke of the alleged shooter: “Alexandre [Bissonette], before being a killer, was a victim himself. Before he planted his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head… Unfortunately, day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians, and certain reporters and certain media, poisoned our atmosphere… But there was a certain malaise. Let us face it. Alexandre Bissonnette didn’t emerge from a vacuum” (The Guardian, 02/08).

What was said of Alexandre Bissonette also applies to us. When we confront the already existing negative thought in our society by igniting another negative thought, we actually exacerbate problems. Why? It’s because ‘problems’, like hatred and intolerance, don’t emerge from a vacuum. They develop in an environment where negativity prevails, the one that breeds the spiral of negativity.

Therefore, instead of aggrandizing the negativity of these hate preachers, let us do our own repentance, conquer our own deep-seated prejudice or bigotry toward others and in doing so cure the divisiveness in the society. As the world rejoices for the win of tolerant and open-minded political leader, the likes of Mark Rutte, Emmanuel Macron or the rise of young visionary politician like Jesse Klaver (the Netherlands’ Green leader), who herald different message against a wrong sort of populism, we should see that hope for a more tolerant and hospitable society is not a utopian. This hope is realistic as long as you (include yourself, unashamedly!), people of goodwill, do not cease to exist and vigorously roam this beautiful-even-if-often-malaise-infested earth.

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