Will there be blood...

Ambarish Satwik | Updated on January 11, 2018

Stay order: An antisemitic message in a commercial district in Schwedt, Germany, reads: ‘Juden sind in dieser Ortschaft nicht erwünscht! (Jews not wanted)’   -  Shutterstock

Ambarish Satwik

... each time the nice and the bright chew and pass on the cud of propaganda and bigotry?

“We had fed the heart on fantasies,

The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”

Stare’s Nest; WB Yeats

There is a gossipy, doggerelly, folkloric side to bigotry. Ramzaade, haramzaade. Hum paanch humare pachchis. Babur ki aulad. Sometimes it might have a lesser form: “You can catch it on the edge of a remark,” as Harold Abrahams had said about antisemitism in Britain.

VK Shahpurkar, professor of surgery at a provincial medical college in Maharashtra, many years ago, had condescended to us from his lectern, and dilated upon the cause of intussusception in infants. Intussusception is the invagination of the small intestine, the gut folding into itself, like a sock turned outside in. In the bowel of the affected infant the lead point for this infolding is, in many instances, an enlarged Peyer’s patch — a bump of lymphatic tissue, raised and aggrandised in response to gut infections. Shahpurkar followed it up with a bit of amateur theorising on why intussusception, in a statistically significant way, afflicts infants in poor Muslim households. “ Yeh log jumme ke jumme nahate hain (they only bathe on Fridays).” Poor hygiene of the breasts in lactating women, see.

This was in 1996. Shahpurkar meant it as a throwaway footnote that he hoped would become a mnemonic for his students. Did it convict him of bigotry? Did his prejudice get in the way of his empiricism? Was there a need to deprecate the Musalman in a tutorial on intussusception?

Earlier this month, a message was circulated in a closed WhatsApp group by an eminent cardiologist saying that the end of Hindu festivals was nigh; that Muslims, from six per cent in 1948, now formed 27.2 per cent of the population of India; that the ‘Institute of World Demographics’ had predicted that the population of Muslims would reach 32.8 per cent in 2021, 38.1 per cent in 2031 and 66.9 per cent in 2040. This was Ghazwa-e-Hind by a higher birth rate and Muslim philoprogenitive readiness. It ended with an ominous warning: “Unite, or else Hindus will be eliminated from the map.”

In the time of the blood libel of the slaughtered cow, should the Hindu palter about Ghazwa-e-Hind? When does a slight become a slur? When does it become a pervasive, culturally borne anti-Muslim creed? What damage can minor transgressions on messenger services do?

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard, in 1996, was converted into a book called Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. At its centre was the argument that antisemitism was integral to the beliefs of ordinary Germans. “That the Jews were fundamentally different and maleficent was, at the time, an axiom of German culture.” The Judenfrage, the Jewish Problem, was a dominantly particular and commonplace German concern.

Goldhagen describes the German cultural cognitive model of Jewishness, one that even children were nursed on. The following were its salient features:

Jews were parasitic, malevolent and dangerous. And organised; they were conceived as a treasonous nation within the German nation. “Even the most honest Jew, under the inescapable influence of his blood, is the carrier of his Semitic morality (Semitenmoral) which is fully opposed to our German morality and must work everywhere towards the subversion and destruction of the German nature, German morality, German civilisation.” The foundational basis for German popular political thought was that the proliferating Jews were both a metaphysical and an existential threat to the volk. It followed from the conception of the Jews as alien invaders of German soil (the Fremdkörper).

Additionally, Jews were charged with defiling German virgins to pollute the lineage of Christians. As a legislative remedy, the Law for Protection of German Blood and Honour was passed in 1935, which prohibited marriages and sexual relations between Jews and citizens of German and kindred blood.

And to belabour the implacability of their distemper, Goldhagen asks: Why did the German masses participate in the nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses that started in April 1933? Why did hundreds of thousands gather at mass rallies to listen to antisemitic invectives and speeches? How did the Germans react when they realised that Jews were now fair game? Debasement of the Jew was a wanton everyday sport practised on the street by ordinary Germans. The pummelling and beating of the Jew, forcing them to perform bizarre and self-abusing acts, laceration of their flesh, urination upon them. These were hordes of ordinary Germans who loved their wives and children but were ready and willing to take a whip and a rod to a Jewish woman’s breast. And the rest flocked to watch these assaults as children flock to a circus.

The place where animus is wont to be made is language and myth and conversation. It is born of canardy, folkloric bigotry. Borne by private beliefs of ordinary people to then become a pathology and a collective hallucination. Sometimes it is manufactured by artful rational men in need of strategy. And carries at its heart a desire for blood.

The blood libel has now reached our parts. The beef-eating Muslim seems almost like the adjusted and edited version of the trope of the bloodsucking Jew. The Jews, the progeny of those Christ-killers, it was alleged, needed the blood of a Christian child to make the matzah, unleavened bread for Passover. Whenever the corpse of a Christian child was found, Jews were lynched.

A WhatsApp group is like a Tocquevillian sociopolitical association — a staging area for fun and games but also for the political education and activities of its members. I know the members of my group, all urbane, well-bred, beautiful people, mostly god-fearing and full of good cheer; I wonder if there are untapped wells of hate there? Are the bigots among them just latent Muslim haters? Believers of canards; chewers of the cud before they pass it on? Or are they capable of carrying distortions that devalue human life? Nice people, they said, made the best Nazis.

The Muslim, it seems, has been put on probation. To be admitted to the nation, we’re told by the Hindu right, the Muslim has to be, at least partly, divested of Muslimness. They have to remake themselves politically and morally, live up to Hindu standards and Hindu virtues.

It should fill us with dread and unease. The duty of repair is upon the Hindu. To not hand over even a particle of Hindu pride to the saffron rabble. To call out and fight the paranoia and propaganda. To bring to mind the closing staves of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Brecht’s parable on the rise of fascism and Hitler:

“This was the thing that nearly had us mastered.

Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard

The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Ambarish Satwik is a Delhi-based vascular surgeon and writer;

Published on July 28, 2017

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