Post from an AAPI activist.
I am writing this blog feeling utterly disturbed, disappointed and unsafe in this multicultural country many of us, including myself, call home. A year ago, when I arrived in this small (and seemingly peaceful) country, I never thought that Hindutva (a political ideology that believes in the superiority of Hindus) would be so rampant and ingrained in the Indian diasporic community in New Zealand. As a researcher on Hindutva, it’s my responsibility to share with our community the imminent threats of violence surrounding us. While I have been working on this article and collecting these posts for months, there could not be a better time than now to publish it. Within the context of the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, the Hindu right is spreading most of the anti-Palestinian disinformation. An example of anti-Palestinian posts in this group is
Even though the post is less violent than many others that we see on the internet these days, the anti-Palestinian sentiment is clear. There are several other similar posts which reflect the support for Israel, that mirror India’s stance on the issue. However, that complex discussion is outside the ambit of this blog.
In this blog post, I will reveal and discuss the misogynistic and Islamophobic content circulated openly on Facebook groups. This blog will only focus on one such group called Hindus in New Zealand; however, it should be noted that several other and more radical groups exist openly online. The blog post has been written after my 6-month digital ethnography of this Facebook group.
The first post attacks both Muslims and “liberals” (read: anyone who propagates anti-Islamophobia). The creator makes fun of the “liberal” perspective that locates terrorism within the global context of colonisation and imperialism. This narrative is problematised and homogenised by the creator by painting Muslims as “terrorists” (and at the same time spreading disinformation about the Quran suggesting genocide of infidels). This plays into popular misinformation circulating for decades in Hindutva and Western discourses. The isolated verse is circulated (without context) in right-wing extremist groups that perpetuate Islamophobia (The verse was spoken in the context of a battle between Muslims and Muskriks of Mecca, who broke the peace treaty).
The next post should be examined within the context of the protests that arose from the shooting of an Algerian-descent teen boy. In June 2023, the 17-year-old was fatally shot by a French police officer. The incident “shook” the nation as the protests turned violent, with cars and buildings being set on fire and thousands of people arrested. The shooting highlighted the police brutality and ill-treatment of Arab and African migrants. The meme translates to, “You shelter me, and I will give you the same what I am giving France.” Using sarcasm and satire, the meme asks countries not to give refuge and shelter to Muslims by portraying Muslims as “terrorists”. The image of the pig is also used derogatively for Muslims (Pork is forbidden in Islam, and the image of the pig is intentionally used to offend Muslims).
The next image contrasts Hindu festivals and Muslim festivals. Firstly, there are questions about the image's veracity and, more importantly, the image stereotypes Muslims as murderous killers while Hindus as peaceful. Even though meat-eating is highly common amongst Hindus (like most other religious communities), the image plays the devil's advocate by isolating Muslims (and one of their festivals associated with meat-eating). Many festivals (including Christmas and Thanksgiving) centre around meat-eating practices, but the image targets Muslims. It also does another job of playing into the “us” vs “them” rhetoric, with the “us” being peaceful/colourful and the “them” being barbaric/dangerous. When circulated within the diaspora, the image paints “Hindus” as model minorities while Muslims as the dangerous “other”.
The next two posts should be looked at simultaneously within the context of murders of women (between 2019 and 2023) by their romantic partners (who also happen to be Muslim). Here, it should be noted that intimate partner violence is widespread in India (as all over the world), with 40-100% of women murdered by their former/current romantic partners (38% worldwide). The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that a woman is murdered by her intimate partner/family every 11 minutes. Without normalising this horrendous violence against women, I draw these statistics to suggest that violence against women is widespread (all over the world), and the narrative drawn by the Hindu right to blame a particular religious community is not only flawed but also highly dangerous. Again, I want to emphasise that the narrative of Muslims as “oppressors, dangerous to women” is not just vested in the Hindu right but also embedded in the White supremacist discourses furthered by the West. The convergence and intersections between the Hindu right have solidified, especially after 9/11.
The first image shows women murdered by their romantic partners (who also happen to be Muslim), reiterating the same narrative of Muslims as “barbarians”.
The next image depicts a girl saying, “Mera Abdul Alg Hai” (My Abdul (Muslim boyfriend) is different). And then she’s murdered in the very next panel - again reiterating the narrative of “love jihad” (a conspiracy theory according to which Muslim men woo Hindu women to convert them to Islam) and Muslims as “dangerous” or “barbaric”. The circulation of these images not only spreads misinformation about Muslims but also dangerously paints them as violators, murderers and oppressors. At the same time, these posts strip women out of any agency - depicting them as “naive, gullible and stupid,” bringing danger to themselves by being/loving a Muslim man. Instead of acknowledging the structures of violence against women, these posts “blame” women for the violence. This clearly aligns with the broader discourses of shame and safety, where any onus of their safety is vested with women (and the failure to do so is seen as a failure). As such, the posts are deeply misogynist and sexist as well.
Even though I have tens of such images/memes circulating similar anti-Muslim discourses, I cannot show them due to time, space and emotional bandwidth constraints. I, on behalf of AAPI, want to urge what Anjum Rahman, Founder of Inclusive Aotearoa Collective Tāhono and Spokesperson for Islamic Women’s Council, has already been demanding a country-wide law to monitor hate speech online. Without a law, such harmful images will continue circulating online, feeding into the already existing Islamophobic rhetoric.
AAPI would like to highlight that this Islamophobia is not in a vacuum but has grown in the white supremacist society of Aotearoa that has anti co-governance tours, where MP and leader of New Zealand First Winston Peters indulges in dog whistling to his racist followers and another MP, leader of ACT Party David Seymour stays silent on the murder of Palestinian children as if they do not matter.Or where acting Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thinks a ceasefire in Gaza is not realistic.