The world became a more acrimonious place suddenly as a result of the breakout of hostilities in Israel and the Gaza Srip.
Campuses are not safe and this includes the top Ivy League institutions in the United States.
Sri Lanka is fortunately not touched by any of this with any immediacy. But it’s true that conflict and acrimony is functioning as a cover for a lot that’s going wrong in the Western industrialised nations. Economies are fast going to seed.
But there is conflict bubbling over. There are marches, and attacks on those who protest and carry placards. Nobody is safe they say, and Jews and Palestinians are on top of the list of those who are subject to hate and rancour-filled attacks. But is there a method to this madness?
Why is there a fresh round of mutual suspicion among vast groups of people in a world that’s supposed to be much more enlightened than say in medieval times?
Part of the answer may lie in the fact that acrimony is good for certain vested interests. More bile translates as more backsheesh for them, in short. Of course some governments claim they have taken notice.
The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sacked his Home Secretary who wrote a venomous piece castigating pro-Palestinian protesters in London. Her opinion was seen as a licence by some far-right extremists to descend on the marchers and attack them. She had predicted that the marchers would turn violent but it wasn’t the case. It appeared that those whom she instigated were the ones that began spilling blood.
She was promptly sacked by her Prime Minister but her project goes on. There are several demagogues and they are at the extreme-left of the political spectrum and the extreme-right.
They are also, albeit in a different form, in the mainstream. But what is the genesis of this demagoguery? Is it the fact that war suddenly broke out? Or is it that these elements have all along being waiting for just this? To sow the seeds of discord so that so many other issues such as economic disquiet gets swept into the background?
People who are besieged by enemies or people who are aggressors against perceived enemies do not have time to think about how badly they are faring, and what benefits they are losing.
They are laser-focussed on enmities. This fact is known by smooth political operators who want to sow discord.
This used to be the general malaise that beset so called developing nations. Small countries with dysfunctional economies used to be seen, in caricature almost, as squabbling, uncontrollable and uncivilised.
But the chickens seem to have come home to roost. Anti-Muslim hate crimes and anti-semitic hate are both on the rise in the glittering cities of western nations and this trend has now reached epidemic proportions.
Politicians seemed to have bargained for this. It means that fringe elements that thrive in hate would be able to push issues that affect the population to the back burner so that the rulers could maintain below par economies.
These economies are substandard, but controlled by various elements that want to escalate crisis so they could get up to various dubious schemes while the flames of hatred are fanned.
This used to be an age old tactic of dubious fringe groups but now it appears that even the mainstream has found new and better ways to make hate stick.
The war in the Gaza Strip, and all of the surrounding hostilities are bad. But how did everything turn out to be so hate-filled so suddenly and go around the world as well, in such a short period of time?
Those who are genuinely concerned about violence will not hate. They would campaign to quell the violence without demonising one group or another. But that’s not happening in the streets of London or the college campuses in the United States. There are daily attacks on innocents just because they happen to be either Muslims or Jews.
The popular caricature in the western media was that in the poorer parts of the world they hated each other for sport.
It appears that what the underprivileged can do, the people of the industrialised West can do ten times worse. We in Sri Lanka remember that in the period of intense hostilities economic concerns were in the back-burner.
The ruling elite were happy because they were able to avoid their responsibility to provide the people with a good life. They could create a vicious circle of hate-filled attacks and counter-attacks in no time in any location they wished, because people were on edge and had been egged onto demonise entire groups of others who didn’t look like them and belonged to different ethnicities
That’s now a cycle that’s common in the West after the recent round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out and it seems the peacemakers from the developing world would have to step in if any of this mindless acrimony is to be quelled.
But yet, the intensity of the rancour now being spread in parts of the industrialised world is suspect. Do people want to keep conflict brewing?
It used to be that if there was conflict between Israel and Palestine, that various western actors who didn’t have a direct stake in these matters stepped in trying to make peace.
The Norwegians famously stepped in once, even though they quickly learned that to establish peace between sworn enemies in the Middle East requires much more than a quick surgical intervention from Scandinavia.
These days there doesn’t seem to be anyone ready to offer good-Samaritan services because the people in western suburbia are caught up in vicious cycles of violence themselves. The leadership doesn’t want to get involved fearing that if they do they would antagonise local groups.
It was the late Mahathma Gandhi who snidely observed that religion is the opium of the masses. There are fewer religion based conflicts now in Asia than in Europe and the Americas. When there were conflicts based on religion and ethnicity in countries such as ours they used to have a geographically-based character in the main. It means that these spats were confined to certain regions of the country specifically, even though there was some natural spillover to other parts of the country in sporadic instances.
This is not the nature of the acrimony that is now boiling over in the industrialised world. People are bickering with each other in buses and malls and in college campuses and town-squares.
They are not doing so with a view towards bringing about peace and coexistence. They are calling for the extermination of entire races. True that may not be the central slogan in most of the confrontations that are taking place.
But there is so much needless hate that hinges on thinly-veiled genocidal impulses. There seem to be pogroms that are waiting to happen, even though it was thought that the word pogrom went into disuse after the anti-semitic attacks in Europe in the bad days of Hitler.
But now there is the daily threat of pogrom in the air in Europe, and it could be against the Muslims or it could be against the Jews.
It’s a powder-keg in search of a matchstick, and who would have thought that the West with its live-and-let-live reputation, could come to this pass this fast?
It’s this writer’s opinion that these events are not beginning to manifest abruptly merely because there is fighting in Israel and Palestine.
On the contrary this trend seems to be the culmination to a now all too familiar wave of demagoguery in western capitals and suburbia, where hate was used as a weapon to hide economic inequity and the slow withdrawal of benefits from ordinary people who have seen their lot deteriorate from forbidding to miserable.
Hate now seems to be everybody’s business, and for some it is a business as tangible as selling cars, hotdogs or lemonade. They see hate and they see dollar signs before their eyes because hate can always keep the rabble occupied, while the rich hoard more for themselves.