Words as weapons

WORDS can kill as surely as bullets. Ask those mourning the death of Luqman Ahmed Shahzad, an Ahmadi gunned down a few days ago, just how deadly words can be.

The victim was murdered five days after a Geo TV religious broadcast in which Owaisi, a cleric invited by the popular host, Amir Liaquat, pronounced that Ahmadis were a danger to Pakistan and Islam. In 2008, two Ahmadis were killed in Sindh soon after a cleric declared Ahmadis to be wajibul qatal, or deserving of murder on the same host’s programme.

Over the centuries, hate speech has been used to demonise minorities in a bid to marginalise — and all too often kill — those seen as the ‘other’. Also, by directing public anger against weak, vulnerable groups, rulers deflect attention away from their own failings.

In most societies, incitement to violence is a crime.

Thus, Jews in France were made the scapegoats for the defeat in the war against Germany in 1870. Ironically, German Jews were blamed when Germany was defeated by the Allies in the First World War. Rising anti-Semitism across Europe led to the Holocaust carried out by the Nazis in the Second World War. Jews were as much the victims of Hitler’s verbal campaign as they were of the gas ovens in German concentration camps.

In post-9/11 America, the word ‘terrorist’ is now almost synonymous with ‘Muslim’. And as we have seen in TV images of the ongoing racial unrest in the United States, stereotypes of violent young blacks evoke a violent response from white police officers.

More often than not, images and words call up old racial and religious memories. Extremist Islamic groups invoke the Crusades when composing their anti-West, anti-Israel narrative. In the West, ancient memories of Ottoman armies still linger. Long after the threat had subsided, mothers in England would warn their children to behave, or “the Turks will come and get you”.

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