How Nationalism and Militant Religious Movements Harm Women and the Underprivileged Across the World

“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war”, said Sydney J. Harris.

Let’s consider a few incidents in the recent past that made it to world news. Last year, the Taliban, a fundamentalist, militant Islamic group took control over the government in Afghanistan, as the U.S. vowed to withdraw its troops and leave the country. This war, which has been happening for decades in the country, is because of the difference in political views mostly, and it is only normal that the people and nationalists would want control of their country, so in many ways, it’s like the freedom fight, one might argue. This certainly did reduce violence that came from war, so it might seem like a relief, but what’s happening in reality?

“The end of the world’s deadliest war has not put a stop to the suffering of the Afghan people. To the contrary, hunger and destitution following the Taliban’s takeover of the country seem poised to kill more Afghans than all the bombs and bullets of the past two decades. The Afghan state is teetering on the edge of full collapse, as the UN warns that the country is fast becoming the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.” Source: https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-asia/afghanistan/317-beyond-emergency-relief-averting-afghanistans-humanitarian-catastrophe

Arundhati Roy on Nationalism

The Taliban, as soon as they won this war, made sure that the country’s women and girls children shall no longer enjoy the same rights to education and the right to freedom.

“Taliban policies have rapidly turned many women and girls into virtual prisoners in their homes, depriving the country of one of its most precious resources, the skills and talents of the female half of the population.”

Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/18/afghanistan-taliban-deprive-women-livelihoods-identity

In contrast to this culture exists the highly liberal American culture (can we still call the USA liberal?). People from underdeveloped and developing countries from across the world choose to work in, move to, and even become permanent residents of the country for various reasons such better living conditions. Following the victory of Trump, there was a this undeniable rise in nationalism in the U.S, which seemed to only become more aggressive with time. One of the recent events in the US that shocked its citizens and even foreigners was the overrule of the Roe vs. Wade case, which had guaranteed women the right to abortion.

“In 2015, Donald Trump began his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He called for a Muslim ban.”

Trump never had respect for consent, clearly a patriarchal figure

In all parts of the world, it’s sadly not that uncommon that women are forced into marriage, shamed for having premarital sex, compelled to have children, become pregnant after being raped, become pregnant when they are too young or financially or mentally not in a position to raise a child, get impregnated following sexual intercourse that happens when they are intoxicated, and maybe even when they are simply not ready for motherhood. These women, who are simply not ready to give birth to a child and raise one, must have the right to abortion. To be a mother or not is for a woman to decide, and men should have no say in this. Rising a child and being a mother are not simple tasks, and when you are either financially or mentally not ready for it or not invested in it, a woman forced to give birth to a child and be a mother can be harmful for both the parent and the child.

But the court decided to take this right away from women, stating that abortion did not align with the country’s “history or tradition”.

Coming to India, a country that is supposedly a democracy (is it really a democracy anymore?), with the electoral win of the nationalist party, the BJP, in 2014 elections, life started to become more difficult for the underprivileged, and most importantly, for the Muslims in India. The BJP is closely allied with the militant Hindu nationalist group, RSS, which has for decades now, hated Islam and Muslims, and even Christianity and Christians for that matter.

With the Congress, one of the oldest secular parties in India, becoming weaker, and the nationalist party acting in a well-planned, strategic manner, fascism began growing. It began with false propaganda on social media, making it look like Hindus are victims, Muslims violently attack Hindus, and all Indian Christians target Hindus for conversion. While the party mostly uses and targets the most vulnerable people for its anti-Muslim-pro-Hindu campaigns, even educated Hindus began falling prey to this.

In the recent years, the threat for Muslims has rapidly increased. The BJP sent out clear messages to the Muslims, conveying their motto, when the universally popular Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son was arrested with false charges. Even if he was released later, when the charges against him were dropped, the family had to suffer and face public shame for no reason. This actor hardly makes political statements or religious statements, let alone any spiteful remarks, but still they arrested his son because they wanted the entire nation to know how clear they were about their anti-Muslim views.

While this is a sad event, Muslim women have been suffering a lot more. Earlier this year, around the state election period, in Karnataka, suddenly, out of nowhere, the government issued rules that Muslim women should not wear the hijab to schools and colleges. This was cruel because these harmless, young women had to choose between their religious faith or personal values and their right to education and dreams.

There was also this incident where young Indian boys, fiercely pro-Hindutva and nationalist, created applications to shame Indian Muslim women. There was this app called “Bulli Bai”, which “auctioned” Muslim women. This was intentional, to hurt the sentiments of Muslims and shame Muslim women. Before this, another such app, called “Sulli deals”, once again, targeting Muslim women was launched. The worst part is that, instead of punishing them for their targeted harassment, these young haters were granted bail! This is how ugly right-wing nationalism can get!

Independence day for whom — the public or rapists?

Muslims, especially Muslim women, can no longer feel safe in this country, considered a democracy. While no government, right-wing or left-wing, and no movement can change the lives of the most underprivileged anywhere in the world, the rise of nationalism and religious extremism have always proven to be threats for people from the marginalized communities, women, and queers.

How does this happen?

The common factors in all these cases across the world is extremist forces wanting sole control over their land and people, a desire for authority, while viewing others as enemies. Often, these parties and groups associate themselves and their pride with “history” and “tradition”, and patriarchy has been a strong part of the history of almost all cultures.

“The escalation from virulent to violent nationalism is best understood through the concept of frames. These cognitive frames through which individuals interpret the social world around them help them structure their behavior. When the ‘normal’ frame predominates, it prevents people from using violence against others. Once the ‘crisis’ frame is brought about, the normal context is replaced by a crisis that can facilitate the use of force. This switch of frames is brought about through the use of symbols and historical memories, evoking fear of the other, usually through an elite promoting this environment or through a mass movement.”

Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17449057.2018.1532633

While countries like India and the USA have not become completely fascist yet, the citizens of these countries fear that the establishment of fully fascist regime might not be far. In countries that move toward fascism, crime against the underprivileged evidently increase.

If you ask a far-right Pakistani, he would blame Hindus as “violent”, which is what the typical, far-right Indian Hindu would say about Muslims. And the fact is, neither would want to acknowledge the wrong that they do.

“From the beginning, men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” — Salman Rushdie

Basically, anything along the lines of “put you religion and religious views or the concept of “love for one’s nation” above acceptance of fellow humans” is anti-human, and when given enough power or criticized enough, these views certainly will birth more violence. Such people would take pride in violence because they don’t view it as violence, instead as being loyal to one’s country and form of faith.

We need to come together collectively, and not be divided or even willing to be divided by such fanatics because when they sense the bias, they tend to exploit it to the best possible extent, and with the support of mass media, polarization of people becomes extremely easy.

Let’s remember that at the end of the day, we are all human, and what you don’t for yourself, you should not want for others either. Try not to be biased, critically assess yourself every morning over what your stance is because you can’t be both heavily biased towards your community and also blame others for misunderstanding you. Criticism must begin with the self. We, as people, must support one another if we value humanity and believe ourselves to be kind people.

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Lakshmi Prakash

Lakshmi Prakash

A conversation designer and writer interested in technology, mental health, gender equality, behavioral sciences, and more.