The so-called People Against Fascism (PAF), a meeting at Kochi last weekend, will be remembered perhaps as the first open enunciation of neocon anti-Muslim rhetoric in Kerala. This is important considering the fact that even the Hindutva rightwing here is yet to draw on this virulent discourse. The terrible – and sadly laughable- irony is that it is the self-styled social and political radicals who claim that it is a move against Hindutva politics.
There is nothing unbelievable about this: if Christopher Hitchens and George Bush and Bernard-Henri Levy can be imagined together, so can the hitherto-radicals who organized the PAF be imagined along with US neocons. After all, Hitchens kept insisting that he was no conservative. The deep exclusionism of this meeting can hardly be denied, anyway – the organizers apparently distributed badges that had three lines of which two were already filled in. The filled-in lines apparently said – Religion: Not relevant; Species: Human. The only line to be filled by the participant was that which revealed the participant’s name!
The discussions in the run-up to this meeting echoed neocon discourse, especially that around the infamous neologism Islamofascism, even though the term itself may not have been used. But even more pathetic was what could well qualify as the Kerala variety of Donald-Trumpish (non-)thinking – for instance, ‘Hindutva Minus Political Power = Islamists’! The huge debate on fascism in social science now indicates that there was and is no fascism in the singular either in Europe or elsewhere of the earlier half of the 20th century or later, even when there are clearly discernible and recurring features among formations described by that name. Of these, ultra-nationalism bound to a cult of purity is clearly the most prominent – and whole generations of political theorists are agreed on this. The exclusive association of fascism with conservatism has been contested quite powerfully too. Historians like Roger Griffin who explore the fascination fascism in early-mid twentieth century Europe held for many modernists point to its obsession with redoing modernity, a shared concern of the latter. These theorists are careful not to lump fanaticism and conservatism with fascism. Their observations are shaped by empirical analysis of these phenomena and not short-term considerations of political convenience or opportunism. The neocon discourse that our friends in the PMAF have drawn upon performs precisely the opposite : it lumps conservatism, authoritarianism, fanaticism, theocracy, jihadism, terrorism etc. etc. into ‘fascism’ and in the course of this sets up Europe as the ultimate reference-point for all of world history. It relies on sweeping, irresponsible generalizations that are ultimately unsupportable by the history of either fascism(s) or Islam, just to create a rhetorical effect that highlights luridly the evil nature of ‘our’ opponents.
At the very least, the radicals should be able to appreciate the differences: Islamism is rarely ultranationalistic even as it is strongly socially-conservative. In sharp contrast is Hindutva ideology: the idea of the punyabhoo has been central to the writings of Hindutva ideologues, notably Savarkar. In the Indian context that difference cannot and must not be underplayed. Certainly, as a person living outside organized religious conservatisms of all sorts, I would be deeply interested in an event that protests them all, but the insistence that an attack on conservatisms suffices as the fight against fascism is not just foolish and shallow, but outright dangerous in our present context.
Besides, neocon discourse pays scant attention to the well-explored links between fascism and capital. The neocon talk by our friends here too pays scant attention to the fact that Malayalis are living through a particularly dangerous time in Kerala’s political history. Over the past decades we have seen how the state in Kerala has grown closer to the neoliberalized Indian state in its nature. The growing depoliticisation of the field of formal politics has made space for the entrenchment of securitisation and surveillance as key governmental concerns, the most prominent victims of which have been Muslims and Adivasis. Welfarism is on the decline largely, even though it has not disappeared or ceases to be a vital public concern.The Vizhinjam Project marks a shift in the very nature of the state in Kerala – the state now aspires to perform the mediatory role in overseeing development-as-displacement in Kerala, given the fact that national capital does not enjoy any hegemonic presence in its own right here. If the PAF radicals had any sense of this shift as contributing to the growth of Hindutva-fascism, they would not have insisted on excluding the Latin Catholic Church, which, whether they like it or not, represents a prominent (though not the only) voice in the struggle against displacement and dispossession at Vizhinjam.
It is also probably important to point out that the PMAF has little to do with the Kiss Of Love protests in form or content. In form, it seems to have been organized in quite conventional ways, with a central committee taking decisions and with little transparency even in information-sharing and shockingly exclusivist in other ways as well. In content, the kind of open-source re-writing characteristic of the Kiss of Love protests in which the nature and scope of its inclusiveness changed with each edition has certainly not inspired the organizers of this event. The mere presence of organizers of the KOL events in the PAF does not by itself make it automatically a part of the legacy of the former. Indeed, those who vociferously protested the exclusions of the PAF – and openly and unambiguously – were also equally leading figures in the KOL protests. No wonder also, that many activists and political commentators who were active in KOL decided to hold a ‘Excluded from the Human Meet’ in protest against the PAF at Calicut on Sunday last.
But then, I also know that at least some in the PAF are driven not by neocon political concerns but by sheer anger and impatience against what I would like to call the ‘Rumpism’ of many leading organizations and figures associated with identity politics in Kerala. This refers to the deep and pointless animosity that many of these persons and organizations nurse towards others who seek to question organized faiths, even as they seek alliances against common foes. But again, not all of those who opposed the PAF are Rumpists, or even to the same degree.
I needed a word that could convey in both form and content the sense that these individuals and groups exhibit, albeit in a different way, the same intolerance against even constructive criticism, and the same short-sighted thinking that is more interested in producing demonizing rhetoric against interlocutors than insight on issues debated that the Trumpists display – and finally and most importantly, the deeply devious and intellectually unethical ways in which some of them ‘score’ their points. Most crucially, when confronted with difficult questions from critics, they are most likely to refuse to respond and instead silence them with a show of their intellectual asses! Hence ‘Rumpism’.
Nevertheless, however obnoxious the proponents of this faux-identity-politics may seem, I do believe that the PAF’s position is completely untenable. The latter’s conflation of the ills of a faux-identity-politics with ‘religion’ is not just a mistake, it speaks of an unwillingness to think carefully enough in the spirit of ethical public engagement. True, it is not as if these organizations and individuals represent their respective communities in any full sense – but neither is it tenable to deny them any claim to representing their communities. If one cannot resist from the neocon temptation to separate out the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ in populations targeted by the US hegemon and its Hindutva minion, then one should not attempt resistance to Hindutva fascism or even resistance to neoliberal global governmentality.
So where does this leave those who are unimpressed by both Trumpism and Rumpism? Fortunately, there seem to be plenty of us — those who openly and vociferously protested in the PAF and perhaps the large majority who participated in the counter-event. I of course speak only for myself and as I see myself – as an upper class, savarna-born single mother and feminist researcher living outside community and at the fringes of faith. I can see no way other than the insistence on self-reflexive awareness of the positions, discourses and practices I draw upon to craft my critiques of conservatism, willingness to remain frank, open, and truthful (not nice and sweet) in my empirical critique of anti-humanist politics (or those which claim to be so), and the determination to pursue thinking that is both careful and care-full.