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How To Counter The Growing Intolerance And Rowdiness?

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Abdul Qayyum Kundi writes about the growing intolerance over difference of opinion in Pakistan and suggests ways to counter it.

A recent abusive exchange during a talk show has shocked a lot of people. It is important to note that this was not a one-off incident, but this attitude has evolved over the years. As a politician, I am always eager to learn about crowd psychology and behaviour. There are many books available on the subject that provide some insight into this dynamic.

Humans are social animals which means that their behaviour is conditioned by their links with other people in their social network. These linkages are our family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, teachers, and even those we help through charity. In all our actions, we feel a certain concern that our behaviour could be looked down upon by these people. We try to contain all those urges that could damage their opinion about us. This conditioning is critical for normative behaviour and any event that causes it to rupture can result in both negative and positive outcomes.

To elaborate on this point, one reason immigrants to Europe, USA, and Canada are very successful economically is the removal of social constraints exerted by relations. An educated Pakistani immigrant that will not mop and sweep a floor in his own country, because of cultural taboos, would gladly do it in UK and USA to survive. This eagerness to do anything to succeed results in many success stories and is a positive outcome of the removal of social constraints exerted by friends and family.

On the other hand, there is a negative consequence of that too. In a mob, a person experiences suspension of social constraints of a normative behavior because a multitude of other people is all exhibiting the same aggressive behaviour. Mob lynching in Pakistan and India and crowd burning and looting in France and Hong Kong are all results of this removal of individual constraints and a new normal defined by the crowd as a single entity.

Another example is social media which offered individuals an opportunity to hide their identity which meant that they were not burdened by the fear of being looked down upon by friends and family. This removal of fear to be reprimanded by loved ones is the prime reason social media trolls engage in hate and abusive speech. They exhibit similar behavior as expressed by a lynching mob. This crowd psychology cuts across all demographics. It is a mistaken notion that only right-wing people are engaged in uncivilized behavior. This attitude is exhibited by both supporters of right (conservative) and left (liberal) ideologies. Their style may be different but their intent and substance are the same.

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Two types of political anarchist movements try to exploit and take advantage of this crowd psychology to their advantage. The first is revolutionaries and the second populist politicians. Revolutions, that are a form of anarchy, mobilise the crowd to tear down institutions that they consider exploitative and oppressive. Their prime mover is a larger social cause and to overthrow an oppressive regime through destruction and breakdown. Populist politicians on the other hand use crowd psychology to promote themselves as the cause and project a perception that everything they do or say is the larger cause. They convince their followers that anyone opposing them is against society and should be punished for this dissent.

Trump, Narendra Modi, Imran Khan, Duterte, and Boris Johnson are all populist politicians that are anarchist in their thinking and approach. All of them initially used social media to promote their vision of intolerance and destruction disguising it as reform movements. Their supporters trolled dissenters to bully and scare them to silence opposition. Later as they gained momentum this same behavior was transported to the real world. Imran Khan supporters chasing opponents with cameras to hurl abuse and accusations. Trump supporters driving into the crowd to physically hurt opponents. Narendra Modi supporters lynching and burning homes of Muslims that they label outsiders. Duterte supporters engaging in target killing of alleged drug sellers. These are all examples of anarchist crowd psychology at play. All these populists are dividers, intolerant, and lack any solutions to real-life problems.

What is the solution to get out of this situation? The good news is that the vast majority of people do not appreciate or support intolerance, hate and abuse. But this majority is generally silent because they don’t want to be dragged to one or the other side while the radical activists are very small in numbers but very loud and aggressive to push their agenda. To contain this small radical segment, there is no single solution to this complex behavioral issue. It has to be addressed at multiple levels. Parents, friends, and coworkers should reprimand people that engage in hate speech and intolerant behaviour.

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The government has to develop regulations that ensure that unidentified and fake accounts are not allowed because the identity of a real person brings his social relations into play that works as a speed breaker to prevent abusive attitude. Social media companies should actively develop a mechanism for the identification and removal of fake accounts and news. In mosques and schools, congregants and administration have to ensure the Imams are preaching the true message of the faith and not using the pulpit to promote intolerance and hate. This issue is severer in villages.

Prophet Mohammad PBUH, Prophet Essa (AS), and all other prophets advised a tolerant and moderate way of life. Sages Confucius and Buddha both learned that the middle way is the best. Buddha spent seven years roaming the world to learn wisdom. The nirvana he got was to believe in One Creator and adopt the middle way. Philosophers Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Mencius, and Descartes all supported the middle way. Socrates tried hard to convince the people dissent or inquiry is not disrespectful. Reformists Deng Xiaoping, Mandela, Gandhi, and Jinnah all promoted inclusion rather than division.

The current republic in its ideology, structure, and organisation promotes intolerance and discrimination. It divides the community rather than unites it. It has to be replaced with a second republic that truly represents the message of Islam which is to be just, tolerant, dignified, and appreciate diversity.

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