Might is right, according to the right - Irfan Husain - January 15, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

TO show that Pakistan does not have a monopoly on hate and intolerance, a thoughtful American reader has sent me a link to the website of Politics Daily.

Here, I learned that members of the Westboro Baptist Church were planning to picket the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the nine-year-old victim of Jared Loughner, the Arizona killer who shot a number of others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

The reason for the protest is that little Christina was a Catholic, and as the Westboro Baptist Church website proclaims, “God hates Catholics”. On this website there is a video clip of Pastor Fred Phelps “thanking God for the deadly killings”. Apparently, he feels that Ms Giffords was visited by God`s wrath in the form of Loughner for her support of gay rights.

While these primitive views are similar to the support Mumtaz Qadri is receiving from lawyers and clerics following his assassination of Salman Taseer, there are notable differences in the public reaction. For instance a number of citizens are planning a counter rally in which they will wear angels` wings and surround the Westboro protesters. In Pakistan, ordinary people fear to confront the mullahs who are now setting the agenda through violence and threats.

But there are other eerie similarities between the two crimes. Both Pakistan and the United States are deeply divided societies, with liberals at odds with nationalistic and dogmatic elements. Obama`s election revealed these fault lines where the rift between Republican `red` states and Democratic `blue` ones was underlined yet again.

The conservative heartland includes Arizona, the state where the recent massacre took place. Here guns are popular, with sales spiking 50 per cent after Obama`s election. Indeed gun-related violence has accounted for a million American deaths since Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in 1968. The fact that a mentally disturbed character like Loughner could buy a semi-automatic pistol over the counter shows how easy it is to buy weapons in America.

In Pakistan, despite tough licensing laws on side-arms, there is a flood of illegal weapons across the country. In Karachi you can hire a Kalashnikov by the day. If you pay for a weapon in the tribal areas, an original or a fake will be delivered at your doorstep anywhere in Pakistan, no questions asked.

More than weapons, the high levels of hate in both countries make violence part of the landscape. Crime and politics both contribute to the rising temperature. But one should not read too much into these parallels: America is still deeply wedded to the rule of law while we have abandoned any pretence at legal safeguards and effective policing.

In the wake of the Arizona killings American lawyers did not gather to shower rose petals on the killer, as their counterparts did on Qadri at a Rawalpindi courtroom. And apart from a small group from the Westboro Baptist Church, religious extremists did not stage rallies in Loughner`s support across America as Pakistani mullahs have done for Salman Taseer`s assassin.

But America does have a long history of political assassinations, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to JFK. While the National Rifle Association endlessly plugs the line “Guns don`t kill people: people kill people”, the fact is that the easy availability of guns makes it possible for angry adults and disturbed teenagers to shoot at the slightest pretext. In the UK, where it is almost impossible to legally own a pistol, gun-related violence is among the lowest in the world.

Over the years the NRA has come to acquire an inordinate amount of political clout. Now, no mainstream politician even talks about reforming the country`s relaxed gun laws. The hunting lobby is powerful, with candidates for high office having to trudge off on hunting expeditions to prove their pro-gun credentials. Sarah Palin is a prime example of the hunting-shooting `Mama Grizzly` stereotype she extols.

These lax laws are underpinned by the American constitution that upholds every citizen`s right to bear arms. The political right is fierce in its determination to prevent any amendments that might water down this right. Of course at the time this clause was inserted the new republic was under threat, and the concept of a citizen militia to defend it motivated the founding fathers.

No such danger exists now, even though some right-wing groups insist that Washington wants to place America under the control of a mysterious `world government`. Many nuts spread this bizarre conspiracy theory and stockpile veritable arsenals of automatic weapons that could put a Third World army to shame.

Faced with this growing right-wing movement, liberals find themselves at a huge disadvantage. For one, they normally respect the rule of law and tend to be non-violent. Accustomed to reasoned discourse, they are not equipped for the kind of hysterical and overheated rhetoric that is the stock in trade of channels like Fox News.

In Pakistan, although extremists enjoy little public support as demonstrated time and again in national elections, they still manage to call the shots and dictate the agenda through their bullying, and their claim to a monopoly on religious matters. Liberals are cowed down before their relentless onslaught and are unable to match the kind of street power the mullahs can summon.

Increasingly, liberal views are being drowned out as reactionary voices dominate the airwaves. TV channels, in a race for viewers and advertising, give space to the most right-wing personalities. Liberals are isolated and accused of somehow being lesser Muslims and harbouring pro-western views.

A similar smear campaign is being run against liberals in America. Barack Obama has been accused not just of being a closet Muslim by a majority of Republicans, but is believed by many to having falsified his birth certificate to prove that he was born in the United States, as the constitution requires. These lies and distortions are aimed at keeping the Democrats off-balance and on the defensive.

Such are the tried and tested tactics of the ultra right. Just as Salman Taseer is being accused posthumously of having blasphemed by his criticism of the blasphemy laws, so Obama is accused of being a socialist who wants to nationalise American industries. Both charges are absurd, but then truth is seldom something that restrains the reactionary right.


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