A Plea Against Fear

Mere hours ago a stranger walked up to me on the street and threatened to kill me.

A provocative way to start a story I know, but I’m not really in the mood to sugarcoat this. Walking along with my earphones in I was enjoying a pleasant walk from my friend’s place to the bus stop when a man in a blue hoodie approached me and began to say something. I paused my music so as to inquire what he was saying. He began to ask me if I was “That f**ker’s brother?” Unsure what he was talking about, I simply replied “No”. He then began to walk away, but no sooner had he taken a few steps ahead that he turned around and began to berate me once again. “You’re one of those c*nts that killed that guy didn’t you?” he said, “You think you’re gonna get me?!” I was speechless. I have had “encounters” before when people have made derogatory comments in my direction, but they have usually been in passing, usually by someone who has had one pint too many. But this man did not seem intoxicated, he seemed angry. He repeatedly lunged at me while repeating accusations that I was “one of those arabs that did that thing“. When I replied that I was Indian, he retorted, “You got the same f**kin brown skin don’t you, you f**kin c*nt!” At this point I slowly started backtracking as he angrily walked on. The last words he yelled at me, as he thankfully kept on in the opposite direction, were “You better watch yourself. Because I am going to slit your f**kin throat.”

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NaPoWriMo- Day X – Venting

Oh how I love thee
Shall I describe the ways?

Like the taste of expired mayonnaise
Eaten with a rusty spoon
Like a hard-boiled Egg
Eaten a minute too soon

Like overly friendly dogs
That slobber all over your face
Like having a King high flush
When the other guy has an Ace

Like having nothing in the fridge to eat
In the middle of the night
Like missing out on that one red sock
That fell in with a load of whites

Like balloons that pop in your face
When you’re attempting to blow ’em
Like bouncers who don’t believe you’re 25
Until you fish out an ID and show ’em

Like nails on a chalkboard
Or forks on a plate
Like waiting outside your girlfriend’s house
Coz she’s running 20 minutes late

Like mustard on my hotdog
Or mushrooms on my ‘Za
Like that girl in class who asks too many questions
And three-hooked bras

Now I wouldn’t quite say I hate you
Hate’s a word too strong
But I definitely un-love you
“Limited Profile” is where you belong

You have no idea this poem is about you
How could you, “you’re just so hot”
You have no idea this poem is about you
Coz you’re not one person, you’re a lot

 

I was almost in a good mood, then I went online

I am probably the last person to want to comment on the state of the nation, whatever that nation may be; or talk about the degeneration of society; or get into fights with people over “one man’s terrorist…” and all that bull. I’m not saying I don’t get into those skirmishes once in a while. I’m just saying, I’m not a fan.

And its not that I don’t know whats going. Of course I have opinions. And even though I may not be the most well-informed when it comes to world politics, I know the gist. I log on to the news apps on my phone – Time, The New Yorker, TOI, HT – and I fill myself in on what’s going on. I watch the highlight reel if you will. And more importantly, I listen to what people say and I try to open my mind to new ideas and perspectives.

And trust me I care. It truly causes me physical pain to read some of the things that people say online. And I want so much to comment or try and add to their dialogue, but its just scary and disheartening how some people refuse to open their minds to any opinion other than their own. Of course I care, but sometimes you get to the point where you would rather just log off and let people just be, as long as they don’t get in your face about it. It just feels sometimes likes there is no way to make a difference in the face of the overwhelming tides of ignorance and hate.

The truth is that the internet has forced us to try and actually come to grips with the idea of “The Freedom of Speech” on a level that I do not think humanity could have ever imagined when we first lauded such ideals. With the exception of a few dictatorial and fascist states everyone in the world believes in the right to free speech or expression or the voice of the people – whatever you want to call it. But how far should we go to protect that right? It seems that every time I go online I come across people who say things that I would find truly reprehensible, if I wasn’t genuinely dumbfounded that someone could be that ignorant or biased or hateful. At what point do we need to step in and draw the line between “the freedom of speech” and “the freedom of hate speech”. Traditionally that line is where it hurts someone. But how can you say that someone spewing hate speech online where anyone can access it isn’t hurting people. Sure maybe he doesn’t pick up a knife or a gun himself, but speech like this antagonizes people who are already frustrated and angry and want someone to blame. You may not be putting the gun in their hand, but you are telling them where to aim.

I actually came across a site today that was dedicated to highlighting the “problem” of “Islamic terrorists”. The site has a ticker widget which shows the supposed number of terrorist attacks that have carried out by Islamic Terrorists since 9/11, a scrolling list of various media articles about Muslims getting arrested, a tab which takes you to various “Mohammed Cartoons” and various propaganda advocating the impeachment of “Obozo” – I ‘m presuming you can figure that one out – Clever as it is (sarcastic eye roll). And why did I go onto a site like this? Because I was looking to pick a fight? Because I wanted to reach out as a “peaceful loving Muslim figure”? No! I went there because this particular blog was on WordPress.com’s list of the “Top Blog Posts” of the day – which it suggested I check out. So basically anyone with a wordpress blog may have landed up here today, now matter how old they are. Wonderful! The blog by the way is called “Creeping Sharia” and I suppose in an alternate universe this person would actually be the exact person that he himself villainizes. I mean is he really that far off from the so called hate mongering terrorist leaders who seduce disillusioned young muslim kids into “fighting for a greater cause” so they can be used as pawns in geo-political battles? I was tempted to share some of the comments that people shared on this blog, to really give you an idea of the level of inhumanity that people like this can bring out in people, but I just cannot make myself do it. I do not want to be responsible for someone who should not be exposed to such material seeing hateful things like that on my blog. If you’re actually interested go see for yourself.

So where does that leave us? Laissez-faire? Freedom for everyone and we’ll just have to deal with the abusers? Enlightened despotism like the old Prussian Czars?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anyone does. Its not an easy question.

But its sad that great people have lived lives dedicated to fighting for the right for people to stand up to bullies and despots who have kept them down. Great men like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru; like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.; like Winston Churchill and Voltaire.

I’m not sure why I really wrote this. Its no great treatise on the human condition. Its not a call to arms for people to fight back against hate. I think its just me trying to say, maybe lets not be so angry. Maybe lets try and be a little nicer online. Just because we can say whatever we want, doesn’t mean that we should.

John Milton, an english poet said “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Lets just try and remember to more than just exercise the “argue freely” part.

A Thought after a Midnight Encounter

London is a wonderful city. It is full of diversity and for the most part I do marvel at its ability to accept and assimilate so many different cultures and backgrounds. But I would be lying to you if I said that you would never have a “negative” experience during your time here.

Let me illustrate with two recent examples. The last time I was here on a visit I was walking down Shaftsbury Avenue on my way to pick up tickets to a showing of Monty Python’s Spamalot, when a loud, possibly inebriated, Englishman yelled out at me “Ay Paki!” Now startled as I was, I turned to face him, not knowing how to respond, before I turned and kept walking on to my destination. At the time I barely even knew what to make of the experience, yet alone to appreciate the deeper racial undertones of this “passing” experience.

Last night, as I was seeing some friends off on the main road at Mile End a man walking by shouted something, seemingly pointed at me. Inquisitively I faced him and asked “Sorry?” His response to this was to pull the earphones from his ears and yell out “What?!” “I’m sorry, I thought you were saying something to me,” I responded. His response was, in a most inordinately rude way, to scream back. “I ain’t talking to you, keep walkin!” He persisted and yelled again, “Keep walking m***er f****r!” Taken aback, I instantly moved away from him.

Now, this is not the everyday Londoner that you will encounter. I do not presume to judge, but maybe these particular gentlemen were not in the best way, and are far from a fair representation of the people of this city. For the most part, I have found Londoners to be hospitable and welcoming. Most certainly my interaction with the administrative and teaching staff of my college always proved to be a most positive and encouraging experience, and I do my best to push such memories from recollection. In fact, mere moments after encountering that rather rude black gentleman with the rude disposition, I had a casual and cheerful conversation with the Bangladeshi proprietors of a fried chicken shop as I purchased some wings for a midnight snack.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, don’t let random or one-off experiences color your appraisal of this city and its people. Chances are you will face discrimination or prejudice wherever you go. This is just the world we live in. We cannot expect everyone to be perfect. I’m sure, if we really thought about it, we are from it ourselves. Hate and discord is a truly unfortunate side effect of a multi-cultural and myriad culture such as London’s. People do not always express their discomfort with the new or the unfamiliar with the most civil or welcoming of responses. But have faith. And have patience.

As newcomers to this culture and this city, open your mind to new experiences, and keep it open despite any such encounters.

Flipside

Love is a powerful thing
Shared it has the power to heal
To mend, to repair
Love is a transforming thing
It brightens the world
Opens your eyes to new wonders
Love is a hardy thing
It can bloom in the coldest places
If the seed is planted, the sapling nourished
But Love is not all that Love is
For Love can change
Hidden away in the darkness
It can fade and discolor
Blacken and harden
Unshared it congeals and corrodes
Becoming toxic
Eating away from the inside
Left out in the cold it turns brittle
Shattering into many pieces
Like shrapnel
Yes, Love is a powerful thing
Yes, Love is a transforming thing
Yes, Love is a hardy thing
And so is Hate