Why I’m inherently anti-muslim

So yes, I consider myself a secularist and all that. I have a number of friends who are from “minority ┬ácommunities”. I still, however, think that parties like the Congress do go out of their way in order to woo “minority communities”. And (though i’ve never voted so far) unless the BJP majorly goofs up on some other axis, I’m significantly more likely to vote for the BJP than vote for the Congress. There are times when I want to try my hand at politics, and those times I wish I had friends in the BJP through whom I could try get a foothold. At times, however, I don’t care and become willing to join just about any party which will welcome me.

So this is the reason I think I’ve been inherently anti-Muslim. Back in kindergarten, there were two bullies in my class. Two absolute bullies, boys who were bigger than most others, who wouldn’t hesitate to be violent. When I was in second standard, one of them had scratched my leg so hard that there was a septic infection which took a long time to heal. I would see conscious efforts by these guys to be mean to others.

Back in junior school, there were three Muslims in my class. There was one quiet girl who I must admit I didn’t talk much to, but then back then I didn’t talk much to girls at all in general. And then there were two Muslim boys. And they happened to be two bullies.

So here I am, six or seven years old, and seeing a one-to-one correspondence between Muslim boys and bullies. I’m too young to know of stuff like “selection bias”, “small sample bias” and the like. Every day, on TV, I’m hearing anti-Pakistan rhetoric. And this was the period between the Shah Bano case and the Babri Masjid demolition, so most family members were also fairly anti-Muslim. And when India won against Pakistan in Sharjah for the first time (Srinath’s debut; October 1991), it was a victory not against Pakistan but against “those bloody Muslims”. When a week later (in the final league match), we lost narrowly trying to chase down 250 odd in utter darkness, it was because “those bloody Muslims had cheated us”.

You can be a rational person, but it is hard to go against biases that were created fairly early on in life. However hard you try to make rational decisions, it’s hard to go against something that’s been built into your instincts. And as I explained earlier, there was a clear one-to-one correspondence that I noticed that made me form my biases. Yes, I try to be rational and “secular”, but sometimes it takes effort to go against your instincts. So yes, I suffer from “anti-Muslim bias”.

Two kinds of immigration

There are fundamentally two kinds of immigration – local job-creators and local job-competitors. The former are primarily middle and upper middle class people, who create jobs locally in terms of employing people (directly) to provide services for them – like maids, cooks, drivers, laundrymen, etc. The latter are primarily working class people who migrate in order to provide local services. They work as maids, cooks, drivers, etc.

Already existing local service providers welcome the immigration of job-creators. That means they now have the opportunity to push up their asking prices, since there is now more competition for their services. There is little economic opposition to the immigration of job-creators. The opposition to them is usually cultural – witness the rants of middle class “native” Bangaloreans like me against “koramangala people”.

Job-competitors, on the other hand are not so welcome. While they usually don’t contribute too much to the “culture” of the city, they compete directly economically against already existing local service providers. There is a clear economic rationale for local service providers to oppose the entry of more such providers, and since the local service providers are usually numerous and politically active, it is easier to oppose the entry of such job-competitors.

In the 1960s, for example, Shiv Sena started out by targeting South Indian middle class people. However, that campaign didn’t last long, since the “masses” (mostly local service providers) realized that it was economically counterintuitive for them to target middle class people. Hence, gradually over time, the rhetoric changed and the targets are now immigrant job-competitors. So you have Shiv Sena guys beating up Bihari taxi drivers, etc. And since this targeting of immigrant job-competitors is economically advantageous to the “masses”, it is likely to be more sustainable than the targeting of immigrant middle class people.

Orators and Writers

Yesterday I was reading an op-ed in Mint when it struck me was that this particular columnist never argues – in the sense that he never constructs an argument using inductive or deductive logic. His method or argument is to say the same thing over and over again – in different ways, using different metaphors. He hopes to make his point by way of reinforcement, and considering his popularity and his ubiquity across the media, I’m sure it works for a lot of people (though not for me).

Then I started thinking about people who are known to be “great orators”, mostly from the Indian political space. I started thinking about Vajpayee, about Chandrashekhar and several other similar people. I discovered the same thing about them. That they seldom construct an argument using deductive or inductive logic. Their way of getting the point across is the same as the Mint columnist’s – to say the same thing forcefully and in several different ways.

And thinking about it, it seems quite logical. When you are addressing a large audience, you will need to take everyone along. You will need to ensure that everyone is clued in on what you are speaking on. And when you speak, there is no way for the listener to take a step or two back if he/she misses something you said. Unlike text, the speech has to be interpreted in one parse. So if you are to be a great orator, you need to make sure that you take the audience along; that you construct your speech in such a way that even if someone gets distracted for a few words they can join back and appreciate the rest of the speech. Hence you are better off indulging in rhetoric rather than argument.

A writer, on the other hand, has no such compulsions. It is easy for his reader to go back and forth and parse the essay in whatever order he deems fit. As long as he keeps the language simple, the reader is likely to go along with him. On the other hand, if the writer indulges in rhetoric, the reader is likely to get bored and that could be counterproductive. Hence, writers are more into argument than into rhetoric.

Which brings me back to the Mint columnist I was reading yesterday who, as far as I know, has been a prolific writer but not as much as an orator (or maybe he is but I wouldn’t know since he lives abroad). And I’m puzzled that he has settled on a rhetorical style rather than an argumentative style. I’ve happened to meet him and even then he was mostly using rhetoric rather than reasoning in his arguments.

So yeah, the essence is that there are two ways in which you can construct arguments – by logical reasoning which is mostly preferred by writers and by rhetoric which is preferred by orators. I’m not sure how successful you can be if you interchange styles.