Dhaka, Bangladesh
Why the anger?

Why the anger?

By Irfan Husain

ANYBODY who uses Twitter much will have noticed the rage evident in many tweets: whenever I have dared to write a critical comment about Imran Khan and his party, I have been attacked - and often abused - by PTI trolls. This is an experience other journalists have had when treading the same path. But the PTI has no monopoly on this kind of web rage: I have received similarly angry emails and tweets from supporters of other parties, even though they are fewer and less vicious. I figure if I get hate-filled messages from all major parties, I must be doing something right. Luckily, I also get my share of supportive emails and tweets. However, why is there so much anger out there? Why can't we accept divergent opinions without getting so worked up? The PTI has no monopoly on web rage. But we aren't alone in this rising tide of fury. The world over, many are experiencing the same anger; more and more people are taking to threats and foul language to express their disagreement with views that differ from theirs. All too often, this is expressed in violent acts. Donald Trump's presidency - as well as last year's noxious electoral campaign - has opened a deepening divide in America. Liberals voice their contempt for Trump supporters in acid tones, while those who voted for him use threats of violence against what they call the 'liberal elites'. A journalist friend who was covering the presidential campaign for a liberal American daily spoke of his fear of the many Trump supporters who carried guns to rallies. In this audience, their hero's tirades against the 'lying media' resonated deeply. In Britain, the acrimonious debate over Brexit may be over, but the anger Remainers feel for the Leavers who voted to leave the EU remains high. Last year, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in broad daylight by a right-wing extremist. Though this brutal act was an aberration, the war of words rumbles on, even in a usually tolerant country like Britain. Recently, MPs on both sides have reported threats and abusive tirades on social media. Gina Miller, an immigrant, campaigned for parliament's right to vote on Brexit, and was roundly abused by the right-wing media for her successful efforts. Viscount Rhodri Phillips was especially nasty, offering ?5,000 to anybody who ran her over. He went on to say on Facebook: "If this is what we can expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles." He was jailed for 12 weeks for threatening violence. "Why has British politics become so unpleasant?" asked The Economist recently. "The answer to almost everything these days is Brexit which has split the country and inflamed opinion…" The weekly went on to give a number of other causes underlying the current strand of rage running through public discourse. In Turkey, there is now a permanent divide between President Erdogan's supporters and his opponents. This split also represents the fault line between educated, urbanised, secular Turks and their deeply conservative, nationalistic fellow citizens who form Erdogan's core support. In India, Prime Minister Modi has polarised the country with his extreme Hindu nationalism and strident rhetoric. Again, the divide is between educated Indians who prize Nehru's secularism, and those who idolise Modi for giving them pride in their country. Time and again, the latter have resorted to violence against those who do not share their views. The minorities are especially at risk in the new India. Such differences of opinion have been around for a long time, so why have they taken on such an ugly edge now? In part, the internet acts as a megaphone for angry voices: instead of fulminating in the local pub or the privacy of their homes, enraged people now have a public forum on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Thus, passionate, often lonely, individuals can unleash their hate-filled messages towards those who disagree with them. So apart from being used to radicalise people, the web has become a vehicle to vent your fury. This rise in intolerance bodes ill for democracy that rests on the premise that you can disagree with your opponents without becoming offensive. In Pakistan, as we can see currently, this understanding is usually ignored. This breach of the rules of civil discourse has poisoned politics for years, but has now reached a new high. The MQM has been particularly virulent in its use of threats of violence, but other parties have not been far behind. The current polarisation, particularly in Punjab, threatens to bring our delicately poised democracy down. In this poisonous debate, the PTI has taken the lead with its leader hurling threats in all directions. How to drain the hate from our politics? One day, perhaps our leaders will have the maturity to sit down and forge a consensus about what is permissible. Sadly, I don't see this happening soon.

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