Inventing enemies

The practice of ‘othering’ political opponents is not a new one

Inventing enemies


n established legal system controls crime in a civilised society. Either the state spots a criminal practice or an individual knocks at the court’s door and seeks justice. In both situations, it is up to the courts first to establish if the conduct was unlawful and then to give a judgment accordingly.

Even pre-Christ Greece would refer the matter to a court to seek a verdict and sentence the culprit. The state, let alone a society or group of people, has never been allowed to work as a prosecutor, a judge and a nemesis at the same time. Our society, however, is progressively and compellingly rendering such authority to the groups and their leaders. The group leaders allege someone with a crime, the offence is then magnified as the mother of all crimes; legal system is then declared incapable of punishing the criminals up to the wishes of the group leader. The result is handing more powers over to the masses to accuse someone, to give a verdict and its execution. We have various levels; the way leaders and mobs charge someone with heinous crime, issue rulings and sentence the accused.

The country’s power centres are relentlessly selling such ideologies to the masses that familiarise the movement to identify the culprits and punish them beyond the laws of the land. The militias formed to fight the war in Afghanistan had local offshoots and allies in the country. They grabbed the patronage of power centres as an opportunity to score against their religious rivals. The whole country resounded with the slogans of “Kafir, Kafir”. Those were not mere slogans; rather they motivated the members of these groups to murder and bomb those whom the slogans were meant to target.

For two decades, this is what we saw. The declared heretics have been murdered across the country. The verdicts were issued not by a court of law but by group leaders patronised by the power centres. We have seen the bloodshed and division in the society along the schism created by these groups and their leaders.

In the next phase, a new slogan was handed over to the group leaders. That was about blasphemy. This group, fortunately, did not mean to serve any international agenda. It was formed mainly for local consumption, which is why its significance fizzled out more quickly. Looking at the development and composition, both the abovementioned groups have identifiable similarities. Both had slogans based on religious impulses. Both groups incited violence against those who may commit anything errant in their delineation. Both manipulated the text to support their thoughts. The definition of jihad was redrafted. A counterfeit history was given to the masses as a licence to kill anyone accused. Both these groups had firebrand orators to ignite hatred and incite violence.

All political rivals are being accused of corruption without any distinction. The allegations are magnified to the extent where all the country’s financial difficulties have been reduced to the corruption and misconduct of a few politicians. 

Last but not least, by any means, both had the full support, guidance and backing of the country’s power centres. Both the groups were stopped doing whatever they were doing and quietened, either amicably or forcefully, depending upon the group and its leadership. Incidentally, both the groups showed no resilience beyond the level their handlers permitted them.

In the current phase, the same process is repeating itself. All political rivals are being accused of corruption without any distinction. The allegations are magnified to the extent that all the country’s financial difficulties have been reduced to the corruption and misconduct of a few politicians. Those who have passed through the legal process, been imprisoned and are still facing the courts; even those who have been acquitted, are still the targets of the unholy slogans and tirades. The new slogan, “Chor” is being chanted being oblivious to the target person, time and place. The purpose is still the same, demotion and ostracisation of political rivals. There is a similar outcome: the intolerance and widening gulf in different segments of society.

However, the scale is far more extensive than the last time. The membership of this group is not confined to religiously motivated people. This time more segments (including professionals and students) are involved. However, like members of groups from the past, they could neither deconstruct the group leader’s assertions nor see the definite outcome of holding extreme views in politics. Even the educated class could not see how allegations of corruption have been used as a demonising tool against politicians in history. They could not see the campaign against corruption focused only on select politicians; similar charges against more influential people have been overlooked or swept under the carpet.

Such patterns of formation, composition and assertions of a group raise a genuine question: Why is it so? There are several reasons, but two are important. One, we are a society which is paranoid to its brim. We always look for an enemy (the other) who is constantly trying to harm us. When we do not find a genuine one, we conceive and create one. At this juncture, the power centres direct this search for the other to other people of same the society, resultantly a real but an artificial division is created. This is the second psychosocial reason behind the creation of such extremist groups, which have kept rising and then fading away.

Once again, we have a firebrand orator who gets more famous when he utters more noxious stuff against rivals. He is considered a divine gift, a saint and a saviour. Like the previous group leaders, none of his followers is willing to consider his shortcomings, but only to believe what is promised. Such trends are not healthy for worldly politics because they only strengthen the clout of a cult. Cults are established to fan existing conflicts and create new, complex, multilayered divisions.

On the other hand, politics does not afford to get into a cul de sac; instead, it finds solutions through dialogue and consensus, which we badly need at the moment.

It is high time we estimated the alarming level of psychosocial damage, which is multiplied by every passing moment, instead of counting votes for the contestants of the next elections.

The writer is a clinical psychologist, he can be contacted at

Inventing enemies