Murari Sharma: Political Rhetoric Matters

What politicians say matters a lot. Jean-Paul Sartre has rightly said, “Words are loaded pistols.” A case in point is the sharp increase in hate crimes in the United Kingdom and the United States now and in Nepal in the wake of the Madhesh Movement.

Xenophobic and Europhobic words of British leaders inspired the nearly 50 percent rise in hate crimes in Britain. Several British leaders campaigned for Britain’s exit — Brexit — from the European Union deploying bigotry, xenophobia and Europhobia — Britain for British people, British jobs for British workers, illegal immigrants go home, immigrants are a burden on British schools and hospitals, and the like –for the referendum held in June this year.  The majority opted for Brexit validating the worst human instinct.

It gave license to the bigots to use their mind, mouth and muscle against minorities. The situation has become so toxic that six impressionable teenage boys beat the Polish immigrant to death, when they heard him speak in his native language. The man was stabbed in Rochdale because he was from a minority group. British bigoted extremists have beat up hundreds of other people from minority groups and hurled racial slurs at them.

In the United States, hate crimes have risen significantly thanks to the words and the incitement of the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Trump’s anti-Islam, anti-Mexican, anti-Chinese, anti-immigrant, anti-opponent rhetoric has encouraged the white supremacists and other bigots into violence. Trump has gone to the extent of assuring that if his supporters beat up his opponents, he would foot any legal bill arising out of such violence.

Predictably,  the Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University Research Project, reports that since the bid for the White House started in March 2015, there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence, including 12 murders and 34 physical assaults. Trump’s supporters knocked off the turban of a Sikh man in an apparent mis-identification as a Muslim, punched him in the face and cut his hair in the Bay area of California recently.

Similar incidents have occurred in Germany, France, and other European countries thanks to the anti-foreigner tirade of the far-right political parties and outfits.

The xenophobic and bigoted politicians in both these democracies have framed their arguments in a binary dualism: “We” the good versus “They” the bad. Narrow nationalism good and broad nationalism bad. Immigrants are bad, their money that flows to us is good. “They” are taking our jobs and economic opportunities. And so on. The natural outcome of such political rhetoric could not be anything but “We” hating and hurting “Them.”

Naturally, such bigotry is always accompanied by misinformation and ignorance, which makes it even more toxic. For instance, in Britain, despite the warnings by experts otherwise, the pro-leave politicians said Britain outside the EU was going to be richer and stronger. Since Prime Minister Teresa May took the time to indicate whether she was going to pull Britain out of the single market, there was no major impact of the Brexit vote other than a huge plunge in the value of the British pound. The pro-leave politicians gloated that they were right and the experts wrong.

But the tide has turned proving the experts right, as soon as May indicated in the Tory annual conference at the end of September that she was going to invoke in the next few months Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows two years for the exit process to complete. Now the British pound has tumbled down to the lowest level in three decades, at one point hitting $1.14. Some people have suggested that the US dollar and the British pound could be at par sometime in 2017.

According to Price, Waterhouse, Cooper, an accounting firm, British growth will slow down from 2 percent in 2015 to 1.6 percent in 2016 and 0.6 percent in 2017 due to the Brexit. Banks and other companies have started making plans to move out of the United Kingdom.

If Britain ends up with a hard Brexit, which means getting out of the single market, it is likely to bring not just a major short-term recession, but also a long-term economic disaster — decline in jobs, incomes, and revenues, public expenditure, and services.

In both the UK and the USA, statistics prove immigrants have been net contributors to these economies.

According to a study by the University College London, the European Economic Area nationals paid 34 percent more taxes than they received in benefits and other immigrants 2 percent more than they received in benefits. The British people, however, received 11 percent more in benefits than they contributed to taxes in the period 2000-2011. Similarly, immigrants who arrived after 1999 were 45 percent less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than the UK natives in the period 2000-2011 and 3 percent less likely to live in social housing.

In the USA, the situation is similar. A Treasury Department note says the immigrants pay more in taxes than the cost of services they use in aggregate and over the long-run,  12 percent immigrants own 16.7 percent businesses and 25 percent venture-backed US public companies.

The aging societies of the UK and USA cannot maintain their prosperity and draw their pension without a steady stream of young immigrants. If these politicians had their way, the UK and USA could go right back to the middle ages, in the cesspool of poverty and prejudices.

In Nepal, leaders of the Madheshi parties vomited the anti-Pahadi venom during the 2007 Madhesh Movement. Their supporters killed some Pahadis, burned the houses of other Pahadis and chased many Pahadis from their areas. There too, the Pahadis were, and are, the net contributor to the economy of the Madhesh.

While liberal leaders might not always be right in disregarding the concerns of the people who fear liberal immigration policy and unguarded globalization, the conservatives could not be more wrong in their prescriptions in a competitive world. What they say matters a lot. Therefore, both liberal and conservative leaders need to be careful with their rhetoric if societies they intend to lead have to remain peaceful, manageable, and prosperous.

There is no time or place when and where intemperate words do not hurt society. The damage the narrow-minded leaders have done to racial harmony in the UK, USA and Nepal is going to take a long time to repair. So leaders must use words as carefully and responsibly as a loaded pistol.


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