An opinion piece published in the June, 2016 Issue of The Kashmirwalla:
(here’s the url in case the link doesn’t work: http://thekashmirwalla.com/2016/06/all-indians-should-support-kashmirs-liberation/)
An opinion piece published in the June, 2016 Issue of The Kashmirwalla:
(here’s the url in case the link doesn’t work: http://thekashmirwalla.com/2016/06/all-indians-should-support-kashmirs-liberation/)
I have been called more animal slurs than I can remember ever since I moved to North America a dozen years ago. Generally those slurs include variations of primates, and sometimes even canines. Greetings like “sand monkey”, “Indian dog”, even “Paki cur” (or it might have been “Paki cunt” in which case I have been ascribing a touch more linguistic depth to the humans who choose to use these monikers than I need to). Also “big ape”, “ugly gorilla”, “fucking chimp” and more. Occasionally, other animals will be invoked. This one time in Toronto’s gay village I was called a “hot and spicy bear” if I’m remembering correctly, and another time in Boston I was called “the great Indian bull” (these last two slurs I think were meant to be exotic compliments by heavily deluded, older white men who were of the belief that their gayness excused them from a basic sense of humanity.)
This is, of course, in addition to the usual smatterings of other non-animal slurs. I often project an ambiguous ethnicity on the streets, so a fairly broad gamut of slurs periodically come my way.
Now, I don’t wish to project this as a daily occurrence, or even a very frequent one, depending on your definition of an acceptable frequency for folks to face this. (I’m one of those saps who thinks once is too many, but to each their own.)
Of course, barring loved ones and genuine friends, a lot of people who don’t face these kinds of slurs tend to be surprised that “this shit still happens?” when I tell them about these experiences.
Be that as it may, over the last many years, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been called some slur or the other in various parts of the US and Canada. After the first fifty or so times, one just blurs it out.
Now, I have found some awesome ways to liberate myself from the clearly dehumanizing intent of all those microaggressions. I’ve already written about how, ultimately, those who oppress or benefit from said oppression are the ones who are dehumanized, and not the ones the oppressive attacks are directed at. So I won’t belabor that point.
But what about also invoking the awe-inspiring pure souls of the animals themselves to liberate ourselves from the ugly manner in which they are twisted into dehumanizing slurs?
It worked wonders for me.
Equally importantly, it led me on a path of slowly destroying my anthropocentrism. It showed me that there was just as much love and liberation, if not more, that one could find with non-human souls as one could with human ones.
(Frankly, I’m seriously thinking of going the other direction and considering misanthropy as a solid life philosophy to incorporate – or maybe just misandry, considering women and trans folk are the only saving grace for humanity. But I think it might be best to keep the therapeutic rage for a later time.)
So let’s talk a bit about liberating ourselves by invoking the amazingly pure souls of the animals, who are unfortunately being dragged into this racism and colonialism nonsense for no fault of theirs.
But I’m not going to do it by addressing the slurs hurled at me in America and Canada. It’s easy to do that. Plus there are many eager liberals who will queue up to condemn those slurs and I don’t really feel like making myself angry right now.
Instead, what I would like to talk about is a body-image slur I faced when I was a kid, because that’s where this healing technique really began for me. Without realizing it, I used this very technique to liberate myself from the constant teasing around my pudginess when I was a kid. And when I recount that episode, it becomes easy to do it as an adult, which I hope you can as well should you ever need this technique.
In this case, i.e. my generously layered pre-teenage years, the animal used to tease me was the awe-inspiring, soul-liberating, elephant – one of my spirit animals. So, I’m going to first talk a bit about how that took place. Because it helped me many, many years later when the monkey/dog slurs were hurled at me.
Ok here goes.
So, I was a pudgy kid.
That much you have gathered.
And I got teased a lot. Don’t worry, I’m not going to dump all of my awkward insecurities on you with this article (that’s what I have my cats for). But I will have to recount some of those ego-busting moments, so try to not shuffle your feet too much.
Among the usual monikers, was your basic, never-going-out-of-style “fatty” in a variety of languages. The linguistic medium and environment of my childhood was a gorgeous mix of English, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Urdu, and Malayalam across friends and family, with the odd bit of Telugu and Bengali thrown in for good measure (usually in the form of crude jokes we would make of our friends who spoke those languages – yo, we all did it to each other).
Needless to say, the number of ways in which you can be teased also gets that rich linguistic and cultural diversity. From being compared to a variety of large, bulbous fruits native to the respective regions that my tormentors hailed from, to just being made fun of via a particular cultural or even religious trope, I heard it all.
When you come from a land that has every religion on the planet, including one that boasts over 3000 gods, chances are that there are some fairly plump ones too, such as Ganesh, the elephant god of goodness, knowledge, and other such desirable life entities.
Growing up, I hated his guts.
Because each god in Hinduism has umpteen different monikers and stories which – in Ganesh’s case – meant umpteen different ways of teasing us fat kids.
However, the one ubiquitous mode of teasing us across linguistic and cultural differences was to be compared to the (ahem, in reality, heavily muscled but admittedly good-personality-possessing) elephant.
We were in India after all.
What an amazing being with such a beautiful, liberated soul.
I realized that when, as a pudgy kid, I was on this trip to Guruvayoor, a small Hindu pilgrimage town, famous for the massive temple honoring the lord Guruvayurappan, a Tamil and Malalayalam moniker – and thus a naturally more tongue-tying one – for Vishnu, one of the dudes in the Hindu holy trinity.
(But one of the meh, not-so-cool, ones. Not like the awesome bad ass – Shiva.)
So there I was in Guruvayoor, placing various gods on a hierarchy of coolness, for this annual pilgrimage that my parents really liked taking. We always drove from Bangalore. I loved those trips because we all got to drive through Kerala, one of the gorgeous coastal states of the land and consisting about 60% of my roots, primarily on my mother’s side (tongue-twisters all).
When I became 18 and somehow connived to get a driver’s license (despite the testing officer’s eyeballs nearly popping out of his socket and chastising me for driving so rashly), I got to hone my driving skills under the patient tutelage of my father during the many road trips we took – the one to Guruvayoor always being among the most picturesque.
It was in Guruvayoor that I first met, soul to soul, an elephant. I was about 10 years old and it was the briefest of meetings, just long enough for a picture to be taken.
She was a kid elephant that the mahout (elephant man) told me was slightly younger than me in terms of our respective stages of childhood.
She looked at me and I looked at her. I felt her tough hide, with hair that stuck out like the sharp bristles of a brush. I felt her majestic breathing. She turned her face slightly, and grunted softly in friendship. Her trunk lightly enveloped my hips, not holding it tightly, but what felt more like a friendly, loving arm around my torso, except from a limb that could have crushed me with ease. Even as a child, she still had a raw power that I could barely contain my awe of.
But the tingle that went up my spine wasn’t due to her physical strength.
Like I said.
Soul to soul.
It was then that I realized a very simple truth that liberated me from the supposed slur of being compared to an elephant.
This being had a soul far purer than any of my tormentors.
Oh hell yeah.
I dug being compared to an elephant.
Or a dog for that matter. Or a monkey, a cat, a bear, a crow, a bull, or any other animal soul out there that we humans dare to invoke with our hateful misogyny, our racist bile, and our colonial entitlement.
Because if there are still people who think animal slurs can be used to hurt women, or people of color, or trans folk, or indigenous people – those hate-mongers should know this very simple truth:
Invoking the pure souls of animals liberates us and defeats the hatred.
In fact, I just realized something else…
We’re also happier as a result.
There is a sickness running through our society – and we need to heal from it with love even if we have to go through some pain in order to do so. The sooner we begin, the better. Some of us have already begun, or at least we think we have. The problem is that our society, for the most part, doesn’t realize that it has this deeply malevolent sickness. And that’s because it’s currently being held at bay. The symptoms are being managed, so to speak.
This sickness is currently being held at bay via a heady and mind-numbing mixture of patriarchy, nationalism, and colonial entitlement.
But the true insidiousness of this sickness is that it’s being held at bay by the very entities causing it in the first place. They cannot afford to let the sickness erupt and thus manage its symptoms. By doing that they ensure we as a society never realize we’re suffering from this sickness and prevent us from finding ways of healing from it.
The symptom-management drugs are prescribed and handed out for free by the powers-that-be.
(I swear, I didn’t really intend for that to rhyme, because if I did I should be slapped in the face).
Seriously though. Just check out any commercial brand name, 24-hour “news” program, or vapid entertainment show that essentially keeps stating over and over, in a myriad different ways and with only so much audacity:
“Our Western society is the pinnacle of mankind and we are the greatest people on earth!”
It’s good prescription crack, no? Just hearing that must make any member of Western society positively giddy with all that artificial dopamine (especially those who can really claim nationalistic and, dare I say it, racial membership in that society).
The idea that we in the West – the US, Canada, Western Europe, Israel, Australia, what have you – are more civilized, more peace loving, and more free, than the rest of the world is such a powerful, heady drug that it could provide an artificial escape from the most insidious trauma and cruelty.
And make no mistake, my siblings wherever you may find yourself free and loved on the gender spectrum – there are vast, deep-rooted, and vicious forms of trauma and cruelty across the length and breadth of our glorious West, our Great Global North, our politely civilized society. No less than any other part of the world. Of course, there will be enough to show that we have it way better than others (you know, after stealing all their shit, but who needs those mundane details, right?) And if you’re talking wealth and entitlement, we’re certainly number one in that regard.
But get this – despite growing up in a so-called Third World country and immigrating to a so-called First World country, I see no less trauma and pain in the US or Canada than I saw growing up in India.
It’s just better hidden and more efficiently sterilized in the West, is all.
Yeah, we need to throw that shitty prescription crack away, and smoke up some regular ol’ natural, honest-to-goodness, anti-oppressive, freedom fighting, weed grown straight out of our beautiful, soul-nourishing, life-force-giving mother earth.
Of course, the weed I’m talking about is the metaphorical kind – wink, wink, nudge, nudge and all…
So, friends, comrades, loved ones, lend me your metaphorical lungs, for it might just be time to light up.
It might just help us see the sickness in our society.
And it might just get us going on the healing process.
I suppose a fair number of liberals in Europe and North America were moved to a brief tear or two upon seeing that three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach after drowning while escaping persecution. The divine feminine protects him now, from the violence, the virulence, the voyeurism.
After his picture came out, and because humanity needs to compete with pop culture memes these days, the social media feeds were awash with performed, public indignation. White folk especially were positively giddy with empathy for that brief second as they peered into their smart phones before the barista called their name out for their morning latte.
Their false empathy is useless of course because the non-sentiment fails to understand two very important points. Two points that encapsulate what this is all about.
Point number one – a little known fact for all you folks out there about refugees and which countries take in the most:
The overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are hosted by some of poorest countries in the world.
Over 85% actually if you’re interested in these weird things called facts. Nope, the biggest hosts of refugees are not the shiny, wealthy democracies of the west, but the Jordans, Ethiopias, Lebanons, and Pakistans of the world. Not that those are stellar nation-states with great human rights records, but I’m not talking about governments here. I’m merely stating a very real fact that across the globe the poor are the ones who are hosting other poor people running away from violence.
Those are the stats, year after year, from the UNHCR – conveniently ignored by the people of the Western nations. Not surprising considering moral entitlement and manifest destiny are two sides of the same coin. Westerners, in Europe, North America, and anywhere else in the world – wherever we may find ourselves on the spectrum of empathy (or astounding lack thereof) when it comes to the ongoing humanitarian crisis with our Syrian kith and kin – we must be clear on a very important truth:
The countries of the West don’t do shit.
But they certainly act like they do.
(And there’s a long history of that behavior.)
These are the same colonial countries who benefit, yes benefit, from the ongoing sectarian violence in the Middle East. The Middle East burns because the Western world constantly shoots it’s veins up with black goop coming out of the sands.
(Anyone else notice that the price of gas in Western countries always tends to be a fair bit lower than the rest of the world? Also, all those shiny streets and spanking economies? Yeah, that comes from centuries of colonialism that also result in fallouts like large influxes of refugees.)
So not only does the West do precious little while pretending to do a lot, it actually owes those running away from the persecution and violence created by the geopolitical structures of Western imperialism. It owes them big.
But the majority of the West doesn’t want to share in their ill-gotten gains. Privileged communities rarely do.
Which brings me to my second point.
Just ask yourself this very simple question.
What if the refugees were white?
I don’t need to hear the answer. I know it already. In fact I’m just going to go ahead and make my second point without waiting for the eventual disappointment that your answer (no matter what it is) will bring.
Cos, make no mistake, my friend:
Refugees across the world are treated like human garbage for one very simple reason – they are not white.
Now let me see you shed a fucking tear for that.
Let’s state one thing outright: everyone on this earth has the right to say, write, draw, and/or otherwise culturally represent whatever the hell they damn well please without the fear of getting gunned down by fanatics…even the clearly racist, Islamophobic cartoons of Charlie Hebdo intended to consistently hurt Muslim sentiments and demonize Muslims as a whole.
And I’m not saying that just to cover my ass. I actually fucking believe it, and will defend with my life that right to real free speech, because I’ve received (likely silly and completely facile) death threats from Hindu fascists for my book. This, despite it probably being read by a hundred people with luck…goes to show just how insecure they are more than anything else, I guess.
The right to free speech is inviolable – genuine free speech that is; that which resists historical structures of oppression and exploitation that silence the voices of the oppressed and the exploited. Political satire is precious, no matter how offensive. Society always benefits from real satire that speaks truth to power and sticks a middle finger to authoritarianism, no matter how raunchy or disrespectful. And to be sure, it looks like Charlie Hebdo did that with mockeries of political leaders, religious authorities, and other elitists. That kind of satire always takes courage.
Of course, they also spent vast amounts of space mocking and demonizing an already oppressed minority (but curiously enough fired a staffer for writing an anti-semitic column a while back…I suppose even political satirists are subject to imperialist double standards). That kind of satire requires nothing more than the basest sense of humanity and volumes of cowardice.
They certainly didn’t deserve to be killed for it. No one does.
But what I see happening with this whole #JeSuisCharlie stuff and the slavish ways in which vast swathes of the Western world have jumped onto this bandwagon is nothing more than the blatant hypocrisy of Western imperialism and colonial brutality.
For starters, let’s check out this so-called unity rally attended by over 40 heads of state. Included in this megalomaniacal bunch is Mr. Netanyahu. You know, the same terrorist who implemented the very recent massacre of over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza, around 500 of whom were children.
No #JeSuisGaza unity rally with 40 heads of state ever materialized, did it? Indeed, I think most of those leaders were tumbling over each other to support Israel’s genocidal endeavors.
Over 2000 Palestinians massacred by Israel just a few months back…that’s approximately 125 times the number of people killed by the fanatics in Paris last week.
Not to mention the nearly 100,000 Palestinians that have been killed by Israel ever since the founding of that ethno-fascist state. That’s approximately 6000 times the number of people killed by the fanatics in Paris last week.
For that matter there was no #JeSuisIraq unity rally with 40 heads of state when over a million Iraqis (out of a population of 30 million) were massacred due to the American invasion. Hell, some of those states gleefully tucked into that little imperialist endeavor didn’t they? (But not to worry, on your way back from work you can catch a Hollywood film valorizing a psychopathic American sniper who called Iraqis and Muslims “savages” while he butchered around 200 of them.)
A million Iraqis massacred by America…that’s approximately 65,000 times the number of people killed by the fanatics in Paris last week.
Not to mention the millions of others butchered by the American Empire in Vietnam, Phillipines, Afghanistan, Latin America and so on…
And don’t for a second think that we’ve forgotten about the approximately 20-30 million Africans butchered in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Where does that leave us…a million times the number of people killed by the fanatics in Paris last week. 1.5 million times maybe? 2 million?
And that’s just the American Empire.
Come to think of it, there weren’t any #JeSuisBritishColonialSubject or #JeSuisIndia unity rallies with a bunch of heads of state for the anywhere between 30-60 million people (yup, you read that right) massacred by the British Empire. Check out Mike Davis’ book “Late Victorian Holocausts” for more information. (Yes, holocausts – some genocides don’t get to be remembered with greater reverence just because white people got killed…we all bleed the same, even if you think your blood is purer).
30-60 million…that’s…oh forget it, at some point in time numbers are just numbers, especially when it’s dead black and brown bodies that constitute them.
And we’re barely scratching the surface of the bloody, colonial foundation upon which ALL Western societies were built on. Lying in that foundation are the millions upon millions of people killed…not by Islamic militants, not by leftist radicals, but by beautiful white colonizers and their attack dogs.
No #JeSuisCongo from Belgian society to remember the genocide of Congolese by Belgians, no #JeSuisNamibia from German society for the genocide of Namibians by Germans, no #JeSuisLatinAmerica by Spanish society to remember the genocide of indigenous communities in the Americas by the Spanish.
Come to think of it, since we’re talking about Paris here, there sure as hell weren’t any #JeSuisAlgeria or #JeSuisMorocco or #JeSuisVietnam unity rallies, among many others, by French society to remember the genocides conducted by the erstwhile French Empire now were there?
But wait…call a fucking national, nay, international day of righteous rage! Some of our beautiful people have died in Paris. Gunned down by cowardly Islamic militants. We must condemn it vociferously, trans-nationally, and with as much neo-liberal, neo-colonial angst as possible…at least whatever can be generated with nary a click of a Facebook or Twitter button.
And while we’re at it, let’s demonize some more black and brown folk.
Beautiful, white, Christians of the Western world…stand up to the terror of the black and brown hordes we have tried so hard to civilize with our economic systems and benevolent empires.
Yeah, I don’t think they’d be too happy if I took on that hashtag…as Albert Memmi said, the colonizer needs for there to be a colonized.
Welcome to the age where imperialism is sanitized by cardboard cut outs supporting speech that is free only to the wealthy and privileged, supported by a corporate media that decides which of the dead deserve unity rallies with 40 heads of state and which of the dead deserve to be demonized.
#JeSuisForTheLiberationOfAll you cowardly apologists for Western imperialism…#JeSuisYourWorstFuckingNightmareBecauseI’mFree