Preachers of hate

Stabroek News
May 22, 2001

Consistently advocating hatred on television for one ethnic group on the basis that some of its members are personally biased against the other group, some are well off (the majority are not) and some indulge in discriminatory employment practices is by any reckoning an extremely dangerous practice, and is bound to lead to serious trouble. Indeed, it has in the opinion of many experienced observers already done so by contributing to the extreme hostility shown since the March election and a continuation can only make things worse.

The preaching of ethnic hatred always involves gross over-simplifications and distortions. It seeks for example to stereotype an entire group as ethnically prejudiced or avaricious, to demonise it so to speak, and to put that argument forward as the reason for the other group's problems. A fair examination of the facts always shows this to be false.

Unfortunately, however, hatred can be a very attractive message. It simplifies everything, creates good guys and bad guys, relieves those who preach it or who accept the message of any responsibility for their own inadequacies or failings, and is impervious to reason. If it is shown that a large number of the group against which hatred is preached are not biased, that is irrelevant, if it is shown that more of them are poor than the other groups that does not matter.

Calls for boycotts of certain products, too, are entirely counterproductive. If one group does not purchase a certain soft drink the other group, with equal purchasing power, could retaliate by not buying another soft drink. Where would that nonsense end?

These kinds of messages being pushed on a regular basis are not compatible with progress in a multi-ethnic society. They inevitably lead to division and strife. These messages are at variance with the thrust of the dialogue that has taken place at the highest political levels and has led to the setting up of joint committees to tackle some of the problems that exist. These messages, if they continue and are heard, will surely eventually destroy or overwhelm these positive developments.

From time immemorial preachers of hatred have had their own profound personal insecurities which they sublimate by transmuting them into ethnic grievances and finding culprits or scapegoats. Historically, the consequences have often been horrendous.

At the end of the day, responsible members of that group have to decide whether what is taking place is compatible with their own views or their own morality and where it is likely to lead. Is it really an issue of free speech or is it a question of persistently making ethnically inflammatory remarks? The National Assembly saw fit to make such remarks a specific criminal offence in legislation passed unanimously before the elections, recognising the damage such remarks can cause to the society as a whole. No multi-ethnic society can forever withstand this sort of propaganda and the undermining of its foundations.

The Constitution Reform Commission has recommended the setting up of an Ethnic Relations Commission and other measures to deal with discrimination. The dialogue has also created valuable new initiatives of working together constructively to solve problems. These are surely the sort of positive steps that should be supported by right thinking persons.