The strangeness of our current situation can hardly be imagined. A whole narrative, a campaign and near-national outrage is conjured out of nothing. Incidents are created almost out of thin air in one part of the world, while in another, an online threat against a young woman paints her as a bigot. In yet another, actual attacks against minorities take place without any clear objective. The examples are many, but a pattern is emerging. There is a clear attempt to widen and exploit existing fissures within communities, and thereby rip India apart. The tragedy? That even reasonable and well-meaning people fall into the trap and rage against the issue, thus adding to the mélange of hate. And it’s happening now.
Beware. This could be our biggest threat yet.
The instance of the hate that did not happen
A fascinating thread on social media gives a step-by-step analysis of how a single unknown Twitter account, presumably from Kerala, ‘predicted’ the abuse against Mohammad Shami, the much-loved Indian cricket player. The actual abuse was apparently limited to 16 posts, of which only eight were religiously motivated. These were the posts removed by Facebook, but the original post was taken up, perhaps unwittingly, by ‘amplifiers’ like Fahad Shah, editor of The Kashmir Walah, a news outlet that claims to provide independent views, as well as other well-known voices in the media such as Mohamed Zeeshan, author and now a critic of Indian policy in American media, with 50,000 followers, whose first Washington Post article was (unsurprisingly) on Kashmir. Also in the list was Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, Pakistan Minister of Information and Broadcasting, a very apt title in this and other cases. Then came a series of posts by Al Jazeera (all using the original screenshots of ‘predictions’) and then the whole story takes off into an ‘us versus them’, with Indian opinion-makers voicing their support for the apparently much-abused Shami once again, this time also on American media.
As the thread notes, the Indian cricket team captain was actually getting the worst of it in terms of abuse and invective. No ‘support’ there. From there it was a short step into Pakistani media, which mostly repeated the stories put out by all of the above, and added a few Instagram posts. What it did not show was that Shami remained one of India’s most-loved cricketers. In short, a ‘hate campaign’ that didn’t exist, even as Kashmiri politicians weighed in to support the player. The end result? A picture of a rabid Muslim-hating India that derides its own players.
The manufactured violence in Bangladesh
You’ve seen the horrific violence and the bloodshed, all because of a viral social media post that said that a Quran had been placed at the feet of a Hindu idol. The person who did this has since been arrested, together with others who circulated the post on social media. Three were Jamaat-e-Islami members, a hugely pro-Pakistan party that has seen its power and clout cut down by the Sheikh Hasina government. In fact, almost all the districts where violence occurred like Cumilla and Chandpur, were Jamaat strongholds. More arrests followed, but the damage was done – some 66 houses were burnt, 13 temples desecrated and several Hindu businesses attacked. Thereafter, a verified handle called Bangladesh Hindu Council (which was later deleted by Twitter) put up a video of houses burning allegedly in Rangpur – the actual video was of an accidental fire in Tripura. That video was aired by almost all major TV channels, worsening the situation.
Then came the anti-Muslim Tripura violence, where it seems the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was certainly involved in organising protest rallies. But soon after came the videos on social media alleging ‘state patronage’ from a handle known to be not just anti-India, but extremely supportive of the Chinese narrative. In sum, one motivated social post, and unintended amplifying led to severe internal violence and an outflow into a friendly state.
Targeting of Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir and Afghanistan
Then comes the mystery of the sudden spate of attacks on Hindus in Kashmir, by the so-called Terrorist Resistance Front, a group that is known to be synonymous with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The accounts of those targeted killings have been covered elsewhere, which led to arrests of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami cadres as well. But there is also an additional patina of threat via social media where most recently a young Hindu medical student was threatened via a handle of Abdullah Ghazi (now taken down) as an ‘RSS informer’. It was also said that she was behind the filing of an FIR against those who shouted pro-Pakistan slogans (she was not). Such methods of publicly identifying ‘informers’ have been used against journalists and others in the past, but now seems to be redirected at Hindus.
Some hundred kilometres away, were the attacks on Sikhs in Afghanistan, claimed by the Islamic State of Khorasan, but traced back to a former Lashkar cadre. The claim was made on al-Naba, one of the propaganda arms of the group, whose actual ‘ownership’ is somewhat questionable.
At a higher level, the Kashmir issue has been bracketed with the Palestine issue, with one such being the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) whose handle was propagating ‘boycott Indian products’. This particular campaign was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. A Twitter thread by DisInfo Lab outlined how any incident of violence, old or new, was projected as an attack against Muslims in India. This imagery was then amplified by such television channels like TRT World and Al Jazeera, again perhaps unwittingly.
There are hundreds more of such instances, posts on social media that whip up communal frenzy, sometimes entirely without any basis. This occurs together with actual attacks on Hindus, which in turn leads to retaliatory attacks. This is an entirely new facet of internal security that not just distorts but creates information out of nothing and then weaponises it.
While misuse of social media is nothing new, the fact is that this congruence of events across three countries is disconcerting, as is the easy acceptance of distorted ‘truth’ by influencers like well-known journalists and international media houses. With such a strategy, the ‘enemy’ is no longer outside the gates, but within our subconscious, and being multiplied like a virus within our own circles. Look again before you RT in outrage. It may be dangerous for your health.
The author is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi. She tweets @kartha_tara. Views are personal.