(Image Credit: Author ‘Portrayal Of Guilt’ via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
DEI has often been called ‘illiberal’ & ‘racism in a new garb’, which are correct descriptions – but I think it is time to add that DEI is State-sponsored bullying of specific groups of people.
A little while after reaching UAE, I learned that in the neighboring Saudi Arabia, there was a special kind of police called ‘Amr bil Ma’ruf wa Nahiy an al Munkar’. I was told that the literal translation of this name is ‘Enjoin the good and forbid the wrong’, but it was also often translated as ‘Promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’. All the three monikers are, of course, too long for colloquial usage, so the shortened versions were ‘Amr bil Ma’rouf’ in Arabic, and ‘religious police’ in English. The task of this police force was to ensure that everyone obeyed the Islamic requirements while in public (and possibly in private as well, but these were rumours unsupported by verified reports).
Upon learning about this, I remembered that the Taliban – before they were deposed by the American invasion in the Fall of 2001 – also used to have a similar force, to enforce their version of the religious imperatives on people. I hadn’t known it then, but they also called this police force ‘Amr bil Ma’ruf wa Nahiy an al Munkar’. This was the period (between 1996 and 2001) when I noticed a tendency among religious zealots that I would later term ‘competitive piety’; their claims to heightened morality / enlightenment notwithstanding, the participants (always men) involved were not above engaging in competition amongst themselves, and therefore resorted to more and more literalist interpretation of the scriptures in an attempt to gain the upper hand among the marauding gangs of zealots.
This may come as a surprise to many in the West, but opinion on these ‘religious police’ forces was sharply divided among the Muslims that I discussed this with in the UAE. The country is a particularly good territory to gain a broader understanding in certain matters, because people from dozens of countries live and work there. While it is fashionable in some segments of the Western society to view all Muslims as homogeneous, the cultural differences among them are significant – perhaps one can also use the term ‘vast’ – and different societies have experienced different evolutionary paths in recent centuries. Naturally, the views of Muslims coming from each distinct society are informed by their culture and evolutionary history. The opinion on ‘religious police’ fell on both sides of the argument; some thought that it was a welcome reversal of the trend of secularization (which they viewed as a Western evil), while others believed that the State had no business dictating the moral values of people in their personal lives.
At the slight risk of over-generalization, I can say that the more religiously conservative opinion was espoused by Muslims from (a) the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and (b) Pakistan (which also includes Pashtun areas, however, Punjabis were also heavily represented). To a much lesser degree, Muslims from other regions (including India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) were also part of this group. The group that was of the opinion that compliance with religion is a personal matter were mostly (a) native to the UAE and (b) expatriates from Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and (surprisingly) Saudi Arabia itself. I always found it fascinating that Muslims originating from areas farther from the birthplace of Islam were more likely to be religiously conservative. However, I need to tamper this observation with the fact that almost all the Arab & Iranian men that I spoke to about this were well-educated and in white-collar jobs, while a heavy majority of the men from Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent that I discussed this with were in blue-collar jobs.
A big chunk of the body of law in any country legislates human behaviour. Generally, these laws have to do with things that people cannot do – these things are called ‘crimes’ or ‘offences’ and there are penalties attached to them. Sometimes, laws about things that we must do – such as to stop at a traffic light when it is red, and we are driving. Therefore, the often-raised objection about a certain law as ‘legislating behaviour’ is slightly misguided. The question, as always, is about the extent to which personal behaviour is sought to be controlled by way of a law. Another crucial element of laws is that the punitive measure for any transgression can only be taken by the State. Therefore, as of necessity, whether a transgression occurred or not is (a) the exclusive preserve of the State to determine and (b) open to challenge by the person accused of the transgression. Lastly, one’s status as a transgressor is situational (e.g., if you were caught jumping a red light once, that does not mean that you have been jumping – and will continue to jump – all the red lights that you encounter(ed)).
THE BAD KIND OF DEMOCRATIZATION
The above discussion of generalities may have seemed irrelevant to a discussion relating to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), but I think there are important fundamentals involved in the situations that I narrated. Given the official recognition that Canada is a systemically racist – and even genocidal – State, and the enthusiastic embrace of DEI by government (which extends to funding), the foregoing discussion leads us to the following conclusions:
- White Canadians acquire the status of ‘oppressor’ at birth (or, in a small number of cases, when they immigrate(d) to Canada),
- Conversely, non-white Canadians (and especially black Canadians) become ‘oppressed’ at birth (or upon immigrating to Canada),
- Disagreeing with the above (or anything else that gets offered as part of DEI) is either a case of ‘white superiority’ or, contradictorily, ‘white fragility’ – unless the objector is non-white, in which case it is ‘internalized racism’.
- Thus, disagreeing with DEI in any manner proves the fundamental premises of DEI.
- ‘Oppressors’ don’t deserve any sympathy or even consideration; their ideas are like ghosts that must be exorcized by any measures deemed necessary. This is reminiscent of the idea, in an earlier age, that the ‘Indian-ness’ needed to be removed from the Indian. In the technical jargon of DEI, this is called ‘unlearning’, ‘decolonization’ etc.
- In what can only be called an exercise in bad kind of democratization, the State has delegated the authority for assigning ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ tag to certain individuals, as also the power to confront ‘oppressors’ in whatever manner they deem fit. In particular, there are no restrictions on the language that can be employed to confront the ‘oppressors’. This is in stark contrast with all the contexts other than DEI, where use of language is being increasingly policed by the State itself.
- The machinery of the State is unavailable to any ‘oppressor’ to address their grievances in connection with DEI (unless a particular instance becomes politically a hot potato).
All of the above wouldn’t be problematic to the extreme extent that it is, if it was possible for individuals to opt out of DEI events. Alas, more and more organizations (both in the public as well as the private sector) are making it mandatory for their employees to receive this ‘training’. As I see it, their humiliation takes place at two levels. The first level is in the ‘training’ part, where they are told that they are ‘oppressor’ or ‘oppressed’ regardless of their actions or the content of their character (and let us remember that some non-white individuals may not agree with the dictum that they are ‘oppressed’, especially when they have lived successful lives in general and are on good terms with white Canadians).
I think the reason why so many people choose to endure this humiliation is that their primary concern is to keep their jobs. They may nod along for the duration of the ‘training’ and, if fortified with enough self-confidence, go back to their lives and jobs as they used to be. However, over the long term, these negative experiences are bound to have a negative impact on the mental health and sense of self-esteem of at least some of them.
The second, escalated level is when any individual questions any part of the ‘training’. This is where the (metaphorical) guns really come out, because, as a totalitarian ideology, DEI must crush any and all dissent by exercising brute force. As we saw in the tragic case of Richard Bilkzsto, their employers (which, in his case, was an arm of the State as well) will almost certainly fail to ‘have their backs’, for fear of falling afoul of the DEI gods. As a result, the social toxin accumulates.
The feeling of having been ill-treated (under either of the above two scenarios) needs to be suppressed, if one wishes to preserve their job and their reputation. In effect, DEI compels individuals to believe what it preaches, because it brooks no dissent. But emotions are largely beyond personal control, so if suppressed, they are bound to show up elsewhere. Over the short- to medium-term, they would show up in the individuals subjected to the humiliation. However, over the long term, I think the countrywide accumulated mass of individual resentments would result in a backlash against DEI. The 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib hinted at this (in the context of a different emotion, viz., love) as follows:
Ishq par zor nahin, hai yeh wo Aatish Ghalib
Ki lagaaye na lage, aur bujhaaye na bane
Ghalib (says), there is no compulsion on love – it is the fire,
That cannot be lit willfully, nor can it be doused by external force.
My fear is that if we don’t get under control – and quickly – the runaway train of DEI, then the State-sponsored – indeed, State-mandated – humiliation of so many people will end up lighting a fire in our society that no external force will be able to douse. At that time, as the Gujarati saying goes, ‘a lot of green wood will also burn along with the dried wood’. As I said in my previous article ‘The Deification (or DEI-fication) Of Malevolence’, there will be a lot of ‘collateral damage’ – and if we consider ourselves to be a serious, mature society, it behooves us to take steps to prevent this damage while we still have the time.
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