Blackkklansman on Capitol Hill: V4Kerala and the rise of the Malayali Macron
By Umar Nizar
The historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq will hopefully make amends for some of the sins, but the Christian communities based in Iraq have suffered under the Bush dispensation and the terror outfits that came up in its wake. Christian communities all over Asia have long since been living under the precarious shadow of terrorism. This applies to Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia and other Indian Ocean rim regions and also Nigeria and other locations in Africa where syncretic currents like Chrislam, which was an amalgamation of Christianity and Islam, have been decimated by the emergence of fundamentalism. Has the strawberry milk of Christian love turned into the sour vinegar of hatred? The incidents around Capitol Hill in Washington DC that ushered in the new year, forces one to raise this question.
Catholicism has never been under such a siege as during the COVID pandemic. The allegations of child sex abuse rocked the Church. Churches including those in Kerala were implicated in these scandals, as widely shown by movies such as ‘Spotlight’. The COVID pandemic also wreaked havoc on the medical establishment of an already struggling economy like that of Italy. It is in this context, that the anxieties of the Catholic Christian community in Kerala has to be taken into consideration. Malayali Christians are being provided incentives to identify themselves with the caste elites, thus deracinating the evangelical, subaltern moorings of Christianity in Kerala and elsewhere which provided its egalitarian backdrop. Events in the Orthodox Church, rearticulating a primordial split in contemporary times, has also thrown the community in Kerala into disarray.
The Manmohan Singh administration was often derisively categorized as ‘Rome Rajya,’ alluding to the Catholic antecedents of the then Congress President, Sonia Gandhi. ‘Rome’ has variously been thrown at Indians of a Christian persuasion as invective, allegation, threat etc. The Savarkarite logic that puts the originary locus of Semitic faiths outside of the Indic ‘holy land,’ also carries within it the hidden implication that Indians believing in Semitic religions can easily be relocated outside. This universalism, which is the egalitarian hallmark of Semiticism has been under attack, recently with the white-supremacist regime of Donald Trump and the shenanigans that went afoot under his command, including the events that shocked the Capitol Hill prior to Trump’s final longwinded exit from the White House. Among the rioters/terrorists on Capitol Hill was a Malayali, holding aloft the tricolor in an act of blatant appropriation of the Indian patriotic sentiment in the cause of Trumpism.
It is perhaps not an irony that fascism never has to stay true to its moorings. It has never been the case that a certain iteration of fascism was revisionist, and has hence to be repudiated. So a Blackkklansman from Kerala holding aloft the tricolor is very much a symptom of our times, where the Catholic universalism of the Semitic faiths has been dumped in favour of the globalization of petty sectarian notions of injustice and victimhood. The Norwegian mass murderer Brevik, allegedly drew inspiration from the right wing fringe in India, putting into practice a nightmare of bloodshed that he envisaged to be replicated throughout the world.
The Blackkklansman from Kerala, raising the tricolor on Capitol Hill is reminiscent of Otto Weininger in obnoxious tracts such as ‘Geschlecht und Charakter’ who over-identified with the Nazi regime and composed tirades of anti-semtism and misogyny while being a victim himself and finally committing suicide. No less alarming was the heroic reception that the Malayali ‘Klansman’ was given by local vernacular language news channels which gave prime time space to an avuncular terrorist. Though not paraded in public, this would go a long way as perhaps one of the greatest self goals scored in the service of right-wing extremism in Kerala.
The rise of apolitical electoral formations has to be seen against this backdrop. Catholic Christian anxieties have led to the emergence of various apolitical platforms that attempt to replicate the French Macron experiment in Kerala. Two outfits, V4Kerala and Twenty20, are recent additions to the electoral firmament in the state. The minor gains of these parties in the elections held to the local government bodies was widely touted in the social media and elsewhere as a sign of things to come.
Shyam Hari writes in an article on the rise of the ‘Twenty20’ in Kizhakkambalam local body elections that, ‘Societal value exchanges in the panchayat take place primarily through religion and family. A significant population in the panchayat follows Christianity. Along with a strong Christian presence, the region is generally dominated by religious believers (Pulparampil, 2018). The religious beliefs had political implication when some political parties associated them to their performance in local politics.’ (Shyam Hari, P. `Social Grievances and Corporate Greed: Twenty20 and Conflicts in Kizhakkambalam’ Review of Development and Change, 1-16. DOI: 10.1177/0972266120916305)
Throughout the Christian communities in Asia, the horrific events of 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ have spelled existential anxiety and horror. Dastardly terror attacks in spaces with syncretic cultures as Indonesia, and also major Indian Ocean locations such as Sri Lanka, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar etc bear this out. The traditional Christian elite of these countries have been in conflict with what are perceived as ‘backward’ Islamic formations. Thus the notions of ‘6th century tribalism’ are allegedly being foisted upon the progressive societies of the Indian Ocean rim region. In fact, from a new historicist point of view, this has nothing to do with either the 6th century or tribalism. Our notions of the past are most often coloured by the present. The Islamophobia that is currently being fanned in places like Kerala in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria and other parts of Asia have to do with the contemporary imperialist thought that posits Anglo-Saxon modernity as the pinnacle of human history and even ‘evolution’.
Bipin Sebastian writes that, “Cambridge historian Susan Bayly, in her book, Saints, Goddesses and Kings, points out that in the pre-colonial era, Syrian Christians were very much incorporated into the savarna sections of the caste hierarchy within the Kerala society. Although the tectonic changes brought into the social organisation of Kerala by the colonialists altered this position, and Syrian Christians switched from being mostly a martial and trading group to one of land-owning agriculturalists, they were still able to retain their traditional privileges (https://thewire.in/religion/kerala-syrian-christians-caste-anti-muslim-rhetoric)”. Such a hierarchy is recently being sought to be reinvented. Former Cabinet Minister AK Antony has long been the poster boy of savarna elitist forces in the state. By disavowing the subaltern, evangelical moorings, Kerala Christianity is positioning itself to occupy the slot vacated by receding caste elites, thus securing protection for the community and a semblance of safety and freedom from anxieties.
Bipin Sebastian, “Why Christo-Racist Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Are Gaining Ground in Kerala”. https://thewire.in/religion/kerala-syrian-christians-caste-anti-muslim-rhetoric
Shyam Hari, P. “Social Grievances and Corporate Greed: Twenty20 and Conflicts in Kizhakkambalam,” Review of Development and Change, 1-16. DOI: 10.1177/0972266120916305